Tuesday, February 27

AP Reporter sacked by VOA

According to sources, Ethiopia’s AP reporter Les Nehaus has been sacked by Voice of America, following inflammatory comments recently made public on Ethiopian Review.

As one of two foreign correspondents permanently stationed in Ethiopa (following the expulsion of his predecessor Anthony Mitchell) he has been often criticized here for evading such great responsibility by failing to accurately report the current political landscape and escalating EPRDF brutality.

However, thanks to his charming opinions on the Somalian invasion and factions of the diaspora (as “the sons and daughters of the Derg officials who now live comfortably in Georgetown”) his critics now include his former employer and many abroad. Though the provocative statements were admittedly taken somewhat out of context, they were nonetheless entirely unacceptable for a profesisonal journalist—both suprisingly inaccurate and offensive—and I am glad to see that he is being held accountable, thanks to those (and I quote)“hell-bent and crazed Ethiopian Diaspora in Washington D.C.” who raised a fuss.

While I am not ready to roll out the welcome wagon for this guy anytime soon, I must admit that I have been slightly encouraged by his latest articles (regarding the recent Amnesty appeals and the current cholera epidemic). Perhaps he only needed a little reminder that, despite being stationd in the ‘forgotten’ Horn of Africa, as a journalist he remains accountable not to the national government but (*gasp!) THE PEOPLE first and foremost, both here and abroad…?

I suppose only time will tell. Here’s hoping, Les!

Sunday, February 25

Write a Letter, Support HR5680

The re-introduction of bill HR 5680 (“The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act”) under the Democrats seems like a precious second chance to me, which absolutely cannot be squandered.

The letter writing campaign—“100 000 letters in 10 days” can prove a vital and remarkably effective strategy provided we all get on board, and soon. We already know that American pressure for the release of the political prisoners is real and mounting here in Addis (as evidenced by the ongoing negotiation attempts with the prisoners), and therefore we MUST capitalize on this opportunity to ensure that it remains a priority.

Despite alliances formed during the Somlian invasion, even the President of the United States will be forced to listen if enough people speak out. This is a fact.



Sample letters, information about the bill and contact addresses are available on:



Coalition for HR 5680
E-mail: passhr5680@hr5680.org
Phone: 323-988-5688
Fax: 323-924-5563

Monday, February 19


This morning, stern-looking policemen in tan uniforms lined the road all the way from the federal prison to the High Court in Kaliti, where two local wagons, a white police SUV and a blue-camoflauged federal wagon filled with armed soldiers sat outside the gates, clearly marking the resumption of the trial. The entrance line was unusually long today, and included approximately 20 foreign observers waiting under the grey sky twith the rest o register and submit their IDs.

Once all were admitted, not an empty seat remained in the court room. The defendants looked well and were obviously overjoyed to see one another after the long recess-- Bertukan especially seemed to enjoy greeting every individual with a kiss before returning to her seat..

After an hour and a half delay, the session began and lasted less than an hour—Judge Adil quickly announced that the court would be adjourned until March 5th, apparently to allow for 3 things
1. The translation into Amharic of the press conference given by Hailu Shawel shortly after the elections to the American Press Club
2. The translation of all written documents into Amharic, apparently to be provided to all defendants at the next hearing
3. To allow for the compilation of all election results and reports from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE)

A low, collective moan was heard from the bench of the defendants at this announcement, before they were ushered out of the court room and driven away in two separate buses before the smiling, waving crowd of spectators that had gathered outside to show their support.

(I tried to discreetly take a picture, and though I waited for an opportunity when no policeman was looking, a man in plain clothes rushed over to a nearby policeman. I am not sure what was said but both men gestured to me and then the policeman went over to speak with two other armed men...plain-clothes security??? I didn’t stick around to find out the consequences of my actions.)

Sunday, February 18


This afternoon Kaliti was overflowing with exhuberant visitors eager to offer final words of encouragement to the imprisoned leaders and prematurely celebrate what they hoped would be their final visit to the federal prison. Family members, for the most part, appeared far more reserved, and the prisoners somewhere in between.

Though tommorrow is certainly a big day, it is highly possible that the speculations abounding both here and abroad may be simply that, and subsequent actions (and reactions) should therefore be very carefully considered.

I hate to be the pessimistic voice of the bunch, but let’s face it--the EPRDF is famous for creating anti-climaxes and brutally diffusing public momentum, so it seems highly possible that tommorrow’s session will be adjourned without incident.

Also (although there is remote possibility of acquittal) the principles of criminal law suggest that sentencing cannot actually occur on this date: in accordance with the presumption of innocence principle (“innocent until proven guilty”), it is the duty of the chief prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged crimes have been committed—presenting both documentary evidence--audio, video, written documents etc--and witnesses pursuant to the criminal procedure. After all evidence has been presented, the judge must then make a decision as to whether the defendants have, in fact, committed the acts beyond reasonable doubt, and three possibilities remain (bringing us to date in the trial):

1. If the judge decides the prosecution has NOT proven that the crimes have been committed beyond reasonable doubt then the defendants will be immediately acquitted.

2. If the judge thinks that the prosecution has proven that a certain criminal act has been committed beyond reasonable doubt, but that act does not conform to the charges laid, he will change the charge and order the defendant to defend himself based upon the second charge.

3. If the judge decides the prosecution HAS proven that the acts have been committed beyond reasonable doubt then the defendants will be given the chance to defend themselcves (by trying to pole holes in the evidence presented by the prosecution and demonstrate that there is, in fact, reasonable doubt in the case that has been made)

If either of the latter should occur tommorrow, the defendants will be asked to present their evidence in rebuttal of the prosecution.

While the majority ot the defendants have refused to defend themselves due to the political nature of the trial, civil society activists Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie will be providing a defense and, as all 131 defendants were originally charged by the prosecutor on a single charge sheet, all defendants must accordingly wait for the court to rule on any objections that one or more of the defendants make before the final verdict is given. It is therefore highly possible that the trial will resume only to be once again postponed though, as always, I hope for the IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL CURRENT POLITICAL PRISONERS.

Who knows what tommorrow will bring--the past year has taught us to be prepared for anything and everything. (I will do my best to provide the complete breaking trial report here tommorrow.)

Wednesday, February 7

Black Lion Hospital

“There are things which much cause you to lose your reason, or you have none to lose”

I recently visited the pediatric casualty ward of Black Lion Hospital. The images I encountered there will remain with me forever.

Despite being one of the largest hospitals in the country, conditions are absolutely horrifying; the peeling white and yellow paint provides little contrast from the grey and dirty concrete floors and corridors marked by puddles of urine, vomit and other unidentifiable fluids. There are no fans in sight, and the foul stench of body odor, urine and disease is staggering. Though there seemed a minimum of 14 to a room, I saw no curtains or masks to divide those with malaria, HIV or dysentry from those with acute respiratory infections or other contagious diseases.

Where there are cribs they are, for the most part, in varying stages of unacceptable disrepair—the matresses are stained and torn and the rusted rails most often no longer close. The rest of the infants and young children are forced to lie wherever there is room (most without blankets) on dirty wooden benches or on the floor on makeshift cardboard mats. I saw three infants lying perilously on a surface resembling the stainless steel trays used in the West for holding the sterile equipment of surgeons. Family members who are unable to afford accomadation within the city have no choice but to sleep on the floor beneath or beside their dying young. The presence of doctors, nurses and interns are scarce—one anxious father reported that he had not seen his child’s doctor in over seven days. A mother begged me for water to give to her dying child, as another struggled desperately to give her newborn child medicine from a glass, due to the apparent absence of baby bottles or eye droppers in the ward. I saw a ‘cast’ made of duct tape, cardboard and a plastic bag worn by a tiny patient who lay wimpering on the floor with an IV attached to his head. I was told that in this hospital, infants suffering from a specific liver condition are placed directly underneath 100-watt bulbs, apparently for some kind of improvised treatment—an incredibly painful and dangerous procedure which on its own can cause blindness and severe burns.

Before leaving, I spoke briefly with a foreign intern who explained with a defeated sigh that every day they were forced to carry out medical procedures for which they were unqualified, because "there is simply nowhere to turn for help”.

Hope seemed, for the most part, absent from this ward; I was told most children would not live to see e following week.

(Annual Federal Health Expenditure: 4.9%)