Most of the times, they stay with us forever and I do hope that that is not the case with Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, the two Swedish journalists who went through the worst and longest days of their lives in Ogaden and then in Kality prison in Ethiopia. Even though I was humbled and honoured to attend their first ever press conference after they had been “pardoned” by my benevolent government at the eve of Ethiopian new year, I couldn’t help but being ashamed about being an Ethiopian when the duo told about some very disturbing and thuggish atrocities that they were subjected to by the regime that calls itself a “democratically elected government”. Being ashamed about being an Ethiopian never stops coming back to my mind even after I left the press conference, and one of my Ethiopian acquaintances saidthe same thing, jokingly adding that her friend had started to identify himself as a Somali whenever people ask him where's he from. Alas, I wish I asked them if they hate Ethiopia and Ethiopians. However, I was glad when Martin Schibbye confirmed the obvious when I asked them at 11th hour whether they meant it or not what they said during the interview staged after their release by Ethiopia's only government-controlled national TV. He said: “No, I did not mean it... we were prisoners at the time and a part of the process that brought us here to this podium”. Where else in the world would one make apologies after being tortured, abused, harassed, threatened with mock execution, degraded and jailed for 14 months for no crimes? Welcome to our world; such scenarios are part and parcel of Ethiopians all over the country who dared/dare to question/criticise TPLF-led government for the past 21 years.
“I'm No more Mr. Nice Guy”
This's what one of the “hosts” said to Martin Schbbiye threatening to kill him unless he told him the truth why he and Persson crossed the border to Ogaden region in Ethiopia last year. Make no mistake, that's not how we Ethiopians welcome foreigners to our country, but unfortunately these days our centuries old and famed hospitality is getting bad publicity thanks to TPLF's (Tigray People's Liberation Front) illogical and unreasonable paranoia against everybody (Ethiopians and/or foreigners) whom they suspect were/are standing in their way. I could never ever imagine how it would feel if a stranger would start barking at me to tell the “truth”, pointing his/her gun at my head and then, boom, gun shots deafening my ears. If our forgiving and gracious leaders had managed to do this to two Europeans with several video reconstructions that were used as evidence in the trial against them, imagine what other worse things could these people do to defenceless, helpless and innocent civilians from Gambella to Ogaden, from Gonder to Assasa who can neither blog, nor tweet, nor write memoirs. Thanks Persson and Schbbiye for keeping your promise to your fellow Ethiopian inmates who remain behind bars in Kality prison, and for being a voice to thousands of other nameless, voiceless and faceless compatriots whose lives are doomed in hundreds of TPLF's prisons in Ethiopia.
Meles Zenawi is gone but business is as usual
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was surrounded with so much controversies about his past ties with Lundin Oil- a company Persson and Schbbiye went to investigate about its involvement in Ogaden region of Ethiopia, told last weekend the Swedish National TV "We Should leave this behind us": when asked to comment on Johan Persson's father's remark about his almost snail-like move with regard to the release of his fellow countrymen. Persson's father frustration is not random as far as the failure of "silent diplomacy" you claimed that resulted Persson and Schbbiye's release; Martin's wife Linnea told me last year that it really frustrated her. Sir, I'm still confused whether your remark was a damage control for your political career or a PR stunt for a regime which lost its credibility with the revelation of Persson and Schibbye's original footage about their horrendous and badly directed capture in Ogaden. Most of the world leaders including you, almost ran out of adjectives in praising Meles Zenawi when you heard about his death last August; the death that was shrouded in so much secrecy and conflicting reports by TPLF for almost three months. I wish I knew how Persson and Schbbiye felt when they heard about his death and a ”bigger than life” picture painted about him by the world, about the person who had the audacity to falsely accuse them as “errand boys” of terrorists while he was hosted next door in Norway last year. Ironically, the two Swedish journalists freed from Ethiopia gave their first ever press conference exactly on one year anniversary since the arrest of this year's PEN-winning dissident blogger Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to 18 years in prison last July and remained in Kality prison along with other fellow six Ethiopian and Eritrean journalists, as well as over a hundred political prisoners. According to one of Ethiopia's remaining “private” weeklies, a Muslim activist was sentenced to one year in prison last Thursday (September 13, 2012) after the court found him guilty of fomenting dissension, instigating hatred, or stirring up acts of violence or political, racial or religious disturbances and rumour-mongering through his cell phone. It doesn't get better, does it?
Finally, let me leave you with this concluding remark: I think Martin Schbbiye, Johan Persson, their families and loved ones as well as Sweden deserve an apology from Ethiopians at home and abroad for what these two courageous and young professionals went through during the last 14 months. I hope that they both started getting accustomed to their hard-won freedom, and that I meet them personally to hear about their life pre- and post Kality.