Birtukan’s release in perspective

By Yilma Bekele

Opposition leader Bertukan Mideksa has been released from Kaliti jail after spending six hundred forty four days, one hundred forty of it in solitary confinement. We are happy she is reunited with her family and loved ones.

She was thrown into a rat infested jail not because she committed some dastardly crime but for the simple reason of demanding justice and the rule of law in her homeland. Bertukan was what is called a ‘political prisoner.’

The fact that she was the leader of the largest political party and the country was in the process of holding general elections was a factor in her imprisonment. Her determination to participate in the election process and her overwhelming popularity with the public was a cause of concern for those in power.

They solved their dilemma by the only way they know. Bribe, blackmail, jail, exile or kill are the options the TPLF regime brings to the table. They choose jailing in Birtukan’s case.

That it was the wrong choice has been made clear during her two years stay. Her imprisonment became a ‘cause celebre’ for the Ethiopian people. Her incarceration highlighted the absence of rule of law in Ethiopia. Chairman Birtukan became a rallying point. Her plight was discussed in the US Congress, European Parliament, Noble Prize Committee, Sakharov Prize and many other international awards. What the regime did to her became the symbol of what is wrong in Ethiopia.

Her freedom should be seen as a beginning of what is to come. Birtukan is but one of the many Ethiopian citizens languishing in Woyane jail because they were deemed to be a ‘threat’ to the ethnic regime. There are thousands of nameless Ethiopians still in jail. Today, as we celebrate the release of Birtukan let us not forget those thousands left behind.

We are not thankful to the regime nor do we see it in a different light. The release of one individual does not wash off the crimes against eighty million people. We know she was released because her country people would not stop invoking her name and her cause in every gathering.

If those in power think that her release would stop the struggle for freedom they are sadly mistaken. If they think releasing one of many will change how we look at our jailers they need to go back and study history. We assure them that the quest for freedom cannot be satisfied by some symbolic act or public relations gimmick.

Welcome home Chairman Birtukan; we have a lot of unfinished business awaiting us.