By Chris Flaherty -Filmmaker
On December 28 2008, Birtukan Mideksa was arrested again and imprisoned to serve a life sentence after the pardon granted to her in 2007 was revoked. Medeksa was among more than 100 people jailed for offences after allegations of fraud took hold of the Ethiopian election in 2005. The Ethiopian government claimed that her pardon was conditional on "an apology for her crimes." Today, the 36yr old court judge and mother appears to be gradually elevating to martyrdom status alone in her prison cell -- much the same way Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has.
In May of 2005 the Ethiopian government shot and killed 193 unarmed protesters after a much contested national election. In addition, thousands around the country were rounded up and sent to prison. The press was virtually shut down and many journalists were forced to go into hiding or risk the possibility of suffering horrific consequences at the hands of government security forces. The effect on the population has been devastating. Since the government crackdown Ethiopians have been living in fear of a regime that has demonstrated it will stop at nothing to maintain power, including murdering its own citizens.
The next Ethiopian national election is rapidly approaching and will be held next May. As a filmmaker and a strong supporter of human rights and democracy, I tried my best to reveal the circumstances Ethiopians face in my current film, Migration of Beauty. The film documents in detail the election in 2005 and draws parallels between the present reality inside the country and how it affects the lives of Ethiopians in the Diaspora. I cannot help but be discouraged with all the latest developments coming out of Ethiopia. A recent Reuter's article indicates that hundreds of opposition party members have been rounded up and sent to prison in preparation for the upcoming election. Indeed, the ruling party's most viable opponent, Birtukan Mideksa has been in prison since December of 2008. Before her arrest she was hailed as the best possibility to beat Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front or, EPRDF. Now, Birtukan Mideksa appears to be gradually elevating to martyrdom status much the same way Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has.
As the election gets nearer, grim news coming out of Ethiopia increases with tremendous frequency. A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ reveals that Ethiopia is the second most abusive country towards journalists in the entire continent of Africa. Organizations like, Reporters Without Borders and the International Press Institute have been sounding the alarm for some time.
At a recent screening of my film in New York City, Tala Dowlatshahi, the senior advisor for the U.S. branch of Reporters Without Borders and anchor of RUTV illustrated quite clearly the horrific situation of two particular Ethiopian journalists. Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega were initially jailed after the 2005 Ethiopian election. They were eventually released under a pardon agreement but now with the 2010 election approaching, the government is attempting to legally revoke the pardon and put them back in prison. Dowlatshahi further pointed out the Ethiopian governments attempt to use an anti-terrorism law to charge journalists both as individuals and the companies they work for. The law was passed earlier this year and is having the ominous effect of forcing journalists to permanently close newspapers and flee the country as charges are being drafted against them.
Recently Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi went to Copenhagen to represent Africa in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I was personally dismayed how such an oppressive figure could be accepted to represent an entire continent. Even more astounding is the insensitivity of "the powers that be" towards the suffering of the Ethiopian people. As former New York Times reporter Doug McGill put it, "he's being recognized and welcomed with open arms." McGill also compared him to North Koreas Kim Jong Ill and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabee.
Journalists and filmmakers who work with REPORTERS UNCENSORED still have much work to do to inform the general public about oppressive regimes like the EPRDF and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They will always be what they are but those who insist on lending them the credit to continue their filthy practices are the ones we need to call out.
Chris and his film, Migration of Beauty will be featured this week on Reporters Uncensored (RUTV). Tune in at 6pm (ET) for a LIVE chat at www.livestream.com/reportersuncensored or watch on demand. For more information go to www.reportersuncensored.com