The Unbroken Spirit of Taye

The Unbroken Spirit of Taye

January 2002, Ethiopian Review online

By Wondimu Mekonnen

 

Dr Taye Woldesemaite could have had it all for himself. He had a B.A. degree in Agriculture and Political Science (1985) from Illinois State University, a Master's degree in Political Science (1986) and a Ph.D. from University of Missouri-Columbia (1988). With such high qualifications from prestigious universities in the US, he could have lived a comfortable life any where in the West. He gave up that opportunity for the love of his people and his motherland  Ethiopia.  In 1989, Dr. Taye took a post as Assistant Professor in Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University for a tiny fraction of the salary he used to earn as a visiting professor at Michigan State University. Nothing mattered to him but serving his nation with the knowledge and skill he acquired from the United States. In May 1991, the unthinkable happened to Ethiopia. Secessionist rebels from two northern provinces, Eritrean Liberation Front (EPLF) and Tigryan Liberation Front (TPLF), overthrew the central military government of Mengistu Hailemariam - the Dergue; and took over the capital, Addis Ababa. For non-Ethiopian readers, a comparable and imaginary scenario could be to assume what would happen to Great Britain if accidentally the IRA took over West Minister. No doubt, disaster! The "Sha'biyya and the "Woyyane" started their diabolic missions at once. They divided Ethiopia along ethno-linguistic lines. They created Apartheid Bantustan type states called "killils" or homelands. Citizens were confined within their "killis" never to seek education or jobs outside their homeland. A new constitution was drawn granting the right to break away from Ethiopia if any enclave wished to do so. Using that provision, The Sha'biyya declared independence of Eritrea and started building a new state from scratch at the expense of Ethiopia. The Woyyane, however, remained behind to finish the unfinished task of further demolishing this ancient country. The irony is, an

Apartheid policy was imposed on black Ethiopians, not by those who originally authored Apartheid to subjugate black South Africans, but by Ethiopia's own tribalist black dictators -The Woyyane/Sha'biyya duo.

 

Patriotic Ethiopians, of course, vigorously resisted this treacherous treason. University teachers and students were at the forefront of the resistance. Dr. Taye Woldesemiate was among those who rejected the implementation of Apartheid education policy on Ethiopians.

 

In 1992, at its General Assembly, the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) elected Dr.Taye Weldesemiate President, Mr Gemoraw Kassa General Secretary, and Mr Assefa Maru Deputy General Secretary. The new officers along with other members set out to protect their profession from further abuses by the Woyyane regime.

 

In March 1993, TPLF summarily dismissed 42 of the leading professors and lecturers from Addis Ababa University, thereby removing the entire ETA Executive Leadership of the AAU Branch, including Dr. Taye.

 

Expelling Dr. Taye from his teaching post did not deter him from continuing to serve ETA. The regime stepped up its repression against all teachers indiscriminately. Many teachers were thrown out of their teaching jobs leaving them and their families exposed to starvation. The harsher the repression, the more bitter the struggle for teachers' rights. The Woyyane

tried to replace the democratically elected executive members of ETA by its own cloned puppet leaders.  ETA successfully contested the Woyyane attempts by questioning the legality of such moves in court. Since May 1993, in its continued harassment of ETA, the regime has taken ETA to court 3 times, and the courts have decided in favour of the legally elected ETA leadership every time. The Woyyane detested these consistent defeats. In the end, the regime dismissed those upright judges and replaced them with its own men fresh from Tigray region and had the rulings reversed. To this day, the regime continues its persecution of ETA members, but the members are not relenting. The Woyyane froze ETA's bank accounts and tried to confiscate its assets and offices. Using all available legal and peaceful means, ETA executive members continue to risk their lives and liberty to protect their association and the rights of their members.

 

In May 1996, Dr. Taye travelled to Europe for ETA business tour. While he was there, the regime's security men forced their way into his residence and made illegal searches. They also searched his office and confiscated ETA documents. They went to Nazareth, a town 95 km southeast of Addis, and searched his father's home. They then declared that Dr. Taye was a wanted man. As the news reached Dr. Taye in Europe, in spite of repeated threats for his life and widespread expectation that he was being singled out for arrest, he refused to seek asylum.  Knowing he was innocent of any wrong doing, he asserted that he would not abandon the 120,000 teachers who elected him their President, and returned to Addis Ababa on 30 May, 1996. Travelling with him were Mr. Andre Dumont (from the Dutch National Teachers' Association - ABOP) and two other professional colleagues, Mr.Emanuel Fatoma (from the Continental African Teachers' Association) and one from the National Association of German Teachers. Shortly after passing the immigration checkpoint at Bole International Airport, security men surrounded Dr. Taye and his colleagues. Dr. Taye was arrested without a warrant and was taken away to Maekelawi (Central Investigation Bureau). The charges against him were ridiculous. Besides "Conspiracy to overthrow the government", they included more absurd accusations such as: kidnapping Italian experts, throwing grenade at the U.S. Embassy and plotting to kidnap U.S. aide workers. What makes the latter allegations ridiculous is the fact that the same allegations were used over and over again to put critical opponents behind bars. Professor Asrat Woldeyes was accused of these same crimes, only to die after being denied timely treatment and medication to cure him from his deteriorating health problems that resulted from the harsh treatments he received in jail. When Dr. Taye was accused of throwing grenade, kidnapping Italians and plotting to kidnap diplomatic personnel, every one laughed saying, "Here we go again!"

 

Having put Dr. Taye behind bars, The Woyyane stepped up its campaign against the remaining influential ETA leaders. On 8 May 1997, the regime's murder squad gunned down Mr. Assefa Maru, the Deputy General Secretary of ETA in cold blood on his way to his office. This raised an outrage throughout the country and across the world. The explanation given was simplistic. They claimed he was killed in a shootout, but the shots came only from one direction - from his assassinators. The Woyyane may have dreamed of sleeping in peace after killing him, but although the bullet ridden curled body of Assefa Maru lies buried in a shallow grave, his blood stained image remains engraved in the memory of all Ethiopians as a reminder of the brutality of this regime for generations to come.

 

The next target was Mr. Gemoraw Kassa. Fortunately, Mr. Gemoraw Kassa was on a business tour in Europe when Woyyane murderers perpetrated another round of crimes against ETA officials. The surviving executive members of ETA advised Mr. Gemoraw to stay away and serve the Association in exile rather than return home and get killed or jailed.  Mr.

Gemoraw wisely accepted their advice and remains in Britain to this day, coordinating international solidarity for the cause.

 

During the three years following his arrest, Dr. Taye was subjected to degrading and inhumane treatments; held in solitary confinement with hands and feet shackled for 24 hours. The Woyyane's plan to break Dr. Taye's spirit did not work at all. No amount of cruelty and humiliation attempt could bring Dr. Taye to his knees. He remains defiant.Following a three- month illegal detention, in August 1996 he was charged of "armed conspiracy", dropping the other laughable allegations. The regime orchestrated a case against Dr. Taye after illegally detaining him. False witnesses were produced by torturing people like Dr. Qegnazmach Solomon Bekele, "founder" of the so-called "Patriotic Front" (released in 1996 after testifying falsely against Dr. Taye), Mr. Gebretsadik Hailemariam (now sentenced to 13 years); Mr. Chanie Talle (sentenced to 11 years but released in

September 2000 without any explanation), Mr. Talegeta Leul (sentenced to 8 years but also released as well), Mr. Kebede Desta  the President of Retired Teachers Association, who died in captivity after excessive beating for refusing to falsely testify against Dr. Taye, and Captain Mogus Assefa (sentenced to 8 years). However, Dr. Taye maintained his innocence. His crime remains to be his allegiance to his professional association.

 

When The Woyyane saw it was practically impossible to break this strong trade unionist in a conventional way, they brought in a partisan judge by the name of Hagos Woldu from Tigray "Bantustan" enclave to harshly deal with him and ETA. The partisan judge, Hagos, immediately started to bend the law here, twist the rules there to make sure he could lock away Dr. Taye for many years. One unexpected difficulty for Woldu was Dr. Taye's rise in stature and international profile to a Hollywood-style stardom that attracted attention from various diplomatic missions around Addis Ababa. All Judge Hagos could do was postponing the hearing with the hope that those "aliens" would eventually get bored and stay away from attending the court hearings. To The Woyyane's horror, that did not happen. The diplomats and international observers were there each day to witness the unprofessional dirty games played by Judge Hagos and his team mates from Tigray. The reported incident of 28 July 1998 is worth detailing.

 

In the morning of 28 July, the court was in session to receive written evidence submitted by the defendants. The panel of judges hearing the case consisted of Judge Hagos (Judge in the centre) Mr. Nuru Seid (Judge on the right) and Mrs. Tsige Hawaz (Judge on the left and wife of Abadi Zemo  one of the highest ranking TPLF officials).

 

While the defence councillors were giving written evidences Hagos Woldu noticed, among the crowed in the hall, the Human Rights Officer from the American Embassy, Mr. George Aldridge, and his Ethiopian assistant who were observing the proceedings and taking notes just like the other members of the public who were attending the court session.  Judge Hagos lost his temper and shouted at them, "You two! Get up! Who are you? Where did you come from?"  Mr. Aldridge and his assistant rose up as ordered and replied that they are from the American Embassy. Judge Hagos went ballistic, "Who gave you permission to enter the court?" he screamed. Looking at the policemen guarding the court, the two men said, they asked them for permission to come in.  Judge Hagos shouted at them back saying, "They? Who are they? Sit down now! We will come back to you in a while. Give me the note!"

 

Mr. Aldridge tore up a leaf from his notebook and handed it to the court attendant. "Hand over the whole notebook!" shouted the central judge. There was unease on the spectators' bench, for no permission was normally sought from the judges to attend a trial held in an open court.

 

Then Judge Hagos quickly told the defence counsellors that he had adjourned their case until 15 September, 1998.

 

At this point, Dr. Taye's defence counsellor told the court that when he went to Addis Ababa Prison to talk to his client in private on the previous day, the prison officials prevented him from doing so. He then begged the court to listen to his client's complaints. Judge Hagos replied, "We are fed up with his repeated complaints. We don't want to hear it!"

 

At this time Dr. Taye intervened to say, "If I can't report my grievances to this court, then where can I appeal to? It is this court that ordered my detention. Shouldn't the court hear the appeals of a prisoner detained on its orders and take steps when a prisoner is ill-treated?"

 

Judge Hagos had no ears to hear that and he screamed, "We have finished!" and ordered the policemen to take the defendants and their counsellors out of the courtroom. As he was being bundled through the door Dr. Taye uttered, "Whom shall I appeal to?" Judge Hagos bit his lower lip in anger and then ordered a policeman, "Take away the other prisoners, but bring this one back." The policeman complied and Dr. Taye once again stood at the dock.

 

Judge Hagos said, "You don't deserve respect. Sit down! Policeman! Make him sit down!" Dr. Taye complied. Then the court started hearing other cases. Towards the end of the hearing, one defendant appealed to the court saying, "Although I had deposited a bail bond of 5,000 birr, I have not yet been released from detention. If I am not going to be released, I request the court to give an order for the refund of the money."

 

Judge Hagos shouted at her in reply: "Shut up, you scum! Don't think we don't get wind of what you are gossiping!"

 

After shouting her down for good, the judge turned to Mr. Aldridge and his assistant and ordered them to stand up. Then he launched a tirade against the two saying, "Don't you know the law? or the procedure? You just barge into the court without first asking for permission? We don't care if you come from the American Embassy. Whatever you scribble, will not in any way change the way we work. We are not afraid of any one!" Saying this, Judge Hagos tore more pages from the notebook and returned the notebook.

 

Mr. Aldridge who by now had turned completely red faced, was shocked by the judge's unprovoked outburst. The two embassy staff pleaded and asked for the court's forgiveness. Judge Hagos ordered them out of the court.

 

Once the international observes were bullied out of the court, Hagos felt he had a free field to intimidate Dr. Taye. Judge Hagos ordered Dr. Taye to get up and said, "Why are you not behaving yourself like other prisoners and sit quietly? Why don't your co-defendants make all these complaints?" Dr. Taye calmly replied, "How can you say this when you haven't

even heard my complaints?"

 

Mr. Nuru, the other judge wanted to impress Hagos and said, "Let me ask you one question, do you even know the procedure followed by the court?" Dr. Taye responded again calmly, "I haven't come here to take an exam from the court. I came here to seek justice." Mr. Nuru's anger flared: "Why are you ranting here?" Dr. Taye firmly but very composed replied,  "Order! I only asked for justice, I didn't rant. What is 'ranting' \maqrarat\? Is appealing for justice ranting? Do you know the meaning of ranting?

 

Judge Hagos lost his composure. He looked pale but shouted at Dr. Taye, "Order!" Dr. Taye replied back and said, "You yourself - Order!"  Judge Hagos screamed at the policeman, "Chain both his hands!" Dr. Taye (stretching both hands towards the judge) said again calmly, "Here are my hands, chain them! Do you think I have stayed so long without being chained?" The policeman tightly tied the dog-chain around Dr. Taye's hands and locked it. Judge Hagos instructed loudly, "Keep him chained until the court gives another order."

 

After this incident, Dr. Taye Woldesemiate remained chained for several weeks because Judge Hagos was out of commission for several months due to a heart attack he suffered.

 

In the meantime, The Woyyane continues to harass and intimidate the remaining ETA members. On several occasions, security men had come to ETA office to arrest and detain the officers including the secretary, only to release them weeks or months later. On one such incident on 18 September, 1998, the security men burst into the office and demanded the handing over of ETA property. When the Executive Officers refused to comply, the security men arrested all of them including Mr. Shimelis Zewdie, Acting General Secretary, Mr. Abate Angore, Deputy General Secretary and Mr. Aweke Mulugeta, Central Committee member. They detained all of them in one room at the 5th Police Station for one month without charging them. One of the detainees, Mr. Shimelis Desta, was suffering from Tuberculosis at the time. The detention of all officers together with a contagious patient was clearly to infect them all with Tuberculosis. Mr. Shimelis was deprived of his daily medication for the whole month and consequently developed pneumonia that eventually killed him as soon as he came out of detention.

 

Judge Hagos returned from his sick leave and continued from where he left off. In 1999, Dr. Taye appeared before the court for more than ten times. Each time the case was adjourned for such flimsy reasons as absence of a judge and the illness of his co-defendant, Mr. Kebede Desta. Mr. Kebede later died in captivity without any explanation as mentioned earlier. Following Mr. Kebede Desta's death, the court met and adjourned three times for the simple reason that the name of the deceased was not deleted from the file.

 

Finally, Judge Hagos made his decisions. The outpouring of pleas from human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Africa, trade unions such as ILO and TUC, and professional associations, such as Education International and NUT fell on deaf ears. On 10 June 1999, the regime's judges found Dr. Taye guilty as

charged and sentenced him to a 15-year jail term.

 

Even such a harsh sentence did not dim Dr. Taye Woldesemiate's spirit!  Today, Dr. Taye is Woyyane's nightmare even though they have him locked up in their prison. He is as defiant today as he ever was. Dr. Taye has now become an international figure like Nelson Mandela with the poor and dilapidated Karchale drawing a historical parallel with Robin Islands, where Mandela was detained.

 

Dr. Taye was reluctant at first to appeal the Kangaroo court's 15-year sentence. However, following the urging of trade, professional and human rights organisations across the globe, he decided to appeal. To this day, two years later since the appeal was first filed, the courts have not considered his appeal yet.

 

The Woyyane's unethical ploy to nail Dr. Taye is now becoming too obvious. Its false evidences against Dr. Taye are crumbling like dominos. The major prosecutor's witness, Dr Qegazmach Solomon Bekele, has now publicly confessed saying that he regrets testifying falsely against Dr. Taye.

 

Strictly speaking, had there been justice in the land, even the testimony originally given by Dr. Qegnazmach Solomon Bekele was not serous enough to warrant a 15-year jail term. Bellow is the supposedly damning excerpt from the actual exchange that took place in that Kangaroo courtroom between the prosecutor and Dr. Qegnazmach:

Prosecutor: What is the name of the Organisation?

Dr. Qegnazmach - Ethiopian Patriotic Front?

Prosecutor - Who were the founders?

Dr. Qegnazmach - I was the founder and recruited all others.

Prosecutor - Was Dr. Taye the founder?

Dr. Qegnazmach - No. I am the founder. I invited him to become a member.

Prosecutor - How long was Dr. Taye a member?

Dr. Qegnazmach - Not too long. He attended just three meetings.

Judge Hagos screams! - THREE MEETINGS?

Dr. Qegnazmach - Yes, your honour, just three meetings.

 

Now, where on earth or what justice system sentences a man that attended three meetings of a clandestine organisation to 15 years in jail and sets free the founder?

 

According to "Goh's", a local Journal, Hidar 23, 1993 (03 December 2000) issue, the witness, Dr. Qegnazmach, has publicly confessed stating that Dr. Taye Woldesemiate was not a member of Ethiopian Patriotic Front nor did he attend any such meeting at all let alone lead any such armed insurrection.

 

In early January 2000, Amnesty International officially named Dr. Taye Woldesemiate, "Prisoner of Conscience". He is the first Ethiopian political prisoner ever to be recognised as such by Amnesty International.

 

The Woyyane may have believed that locking Dr. Taye behind bars would solve their problems. They should have known that abuse of a system would not pay in the long run. It would be instructive to look at the demise of Woyyane's puppet ETA leaders. The first two puppet presidents Mr. Yohannes Hagos (who later was deported to Eritrea), and Mr.Yshiwas Admasu claim to have known so early that they were being used as a tool to prosecute teachers. In November 2001, even the carefully groomed and hand picked puppet ETA president, Ahmed Ababulgu, defected to Norway where he is currently seeking asylum.Dr. Taye has good reason to laugh about all this from his jail cell.

 

Between 9 and 16 March 2000, Education International delegates were visiting Ethiopia.There they were able to see Dr. Taye in jail. They also met with Mr. Tekeda Alemu, the Woyyane Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and demanded explanation for why it took the government over two years to consider the appeal of Dr. Taye. Mr. Tekeda told them that it was because they had tens of thousands of other prisoners and Dr. Taye's case was only one such case waiting for its turn. This admission came as a shock to the delegates. The honesty of Mr. Tekeda Alemu did not stop there. He said that the regime was short of

trained judges because experienced judges were not faithful to the "government" and the new recruits have no experience to handle complicated cases such as Dr. Taye's.

 

One month after the delegates left Addis, the appeal was brought before the Appeal's Court on 10 April 2001.

 

The judge declared:

 

1.   Other than bringing two witnesses to tell the existence of the so-called "Patriotic Front", the prosecutor did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Taye was in fact its leader.

 

2. Regarding the claim of defendant's hand written document, Dr. Taye had consistently denied that it was his handwriting. The Prosecutor General has not provided concrete evidence to prove that the handwriting was indeed Dr. Taye's.

 

3.  The existence of "Patriotic Front" itself is in question. There was nothing pointing to the existence of such a "Front" either by its notable action or its documented movements. Its existence has only been mentioned in this court case, without any independent party corroborating its existence.

 

Given the cited three reasons, the court decided to hear the appeal of Dr. Taye. The Prosecutor General was ordered to produce his own concrete evidence on all three points on 31 May 2001. However, from 31 May to 20 November 2001, the court continued to adjourn month after month for similarly lame and even embarrassing excuses. One such excuse had to do with a mysterious disappearance of 75 pages from the report of the High Court, another was that the police forgot the scheduled hearing date. The next hearing is set for 20 December 2001. We all wait with deep concern that the regime might once again fabricate one of those lame excuses to delay Dr. Taye's release.

 

The depth of Dr. Taye Woldesemiate's courage is truly amazing. His iron will and sheer strength have helped many who are concerned for Ethiopia including those international organisations dealing with trade and human rights issues. Education International is in the forefront of the campaign to free Dr. Taye. At its Second Conference (1998), Education International presented the 'Education International Human and Trade Union Award' to Dr. Taye Woldesemiate and posthumously to Mr. Assefa Maru. The Dutch Labour Union awarded Dr. Taye and ETA with "Febe Elisabeth Valasques Award" involving highly valued work of art. The harsh treatment exacted on Dr. Taye and ETA, had caused ILO to remark on the Woyyane regime in the Special Paragraph. National Union of Teachers (NUT) of Great Britain has now taken Dr. Taye's case very seriously. Its Deputy General Secretary, Mr. Steve Sinnott did visit Ethiopia in December 2000. He wrote a report then about it and this report had been distributed in 160 countries and was read by more than 23 million teachers. Steve will soon be back in Ethiopia to boost Dr. Taye's survival immunity system. The Trade Unions Confederation (TUC) is standing by ETA and demanding the release of Dr. Taye. Friends of Dr. Taye lead by people like Carlos Escapa from Paris, Professor M.

Golomb, Marilyn Boyd and Jean Mahoney Oliver from Illinois, Mieko Sakoda from Japan and many others are doing fantastic jobs. They have a website for Dr. Taye that is visited frequently. Dr. Taye is receiving letters, cards, journals and even biscuits from around the globe. Thanks to Education International and NUT, today, every child in British schools knows Dr. Taye by name. In London, "The Task Force to Free Dr. Taye", lead by Mr. Gemoraw Kassa, is stepping up the campaign to boost international solidarity for the release of Dr. Taye.

 

Dr. Taye is a tough nut to crack for Woyyane. Nothing they had done so far had made him abandon the 120,000 teachers whom he represented. The teachers have not abandoned him either. We know that the campaign to get him released energizes him. He beams with joy every time he hears of the efforts exerted by the Diaspora to clear his name and expose Woyyane's brutality. The Woyyanes are paying dearly in the international diplomatic arena for wrongly incarcerating and brutally treating Dr. Taye for so long. His jailors have no other option this time but to set him free. The sooner they let him go the better, even for them.

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