FREEDOM 4 ALL ETHIOPIANS

FREEDOM,DEMOCRACY.JUSTICE.AND UNITY FOR ALL ETHIOPIANS …by DANIEL TESFAYE

Archive for the month “October, 2015”

Journalist Temesgen Desalgen: An independent journalist denied family visits in TPLF/EPDRF’s Jail

okt 31,2015

Is offering voice to voiceless a crime? Journalist Temesgen Desalgen owner of the news magazine in Amharic called Feteh (justice) has been imprisoned since October 2014. He was charged by TPLF/EPDRF’s regime on incitements, false publications, defamations etc. and sentenced by the kangaroo court for three years in Ziway prison. Since then it was reported on several media his health conditions is deteriorating and access to medical help denied by the prison authorities. As recently as October 23, 2015, I listened the interview of Journalist Temesgen’s brother Tariku and his lawyer (Ato Amha Mokonnen) with VOA (part 2). Tariku said that two of his brothers went to Ziway prison a total four times to visit him in the past week alone. They were denied to visit him. Prison authorities bluntly told them you cannot see him. “We really don’t care whether you are his brother or not, you cannot see him”. The reason given was a rude one; “It is none of your business”. This is typical arrogant behavior of TPLF/EPDRF loyalist across the country.charges against Ethiopian journalist Temesghen Desalegn

Each passing day his family worries about Temesgen’s health condition. He has been incarcerated in inhumane living condition. He has been mistreated and denied medical assistance by prison authorities. Giving these stressful predicaments Tariku kept on making agonizing journeys to Ziway prison. As he arrived at prison compound initially he was denied to visit him, but he confronted them and told them that Temesgen should not be deprived from family visitation unless you (Prisoner authorities) are hiding something from families. He also told them I am not leaving the prison compound unless he has learned Temesgen’s condition. It appears that his determination forced the prisons authorities to take few minutes to consult each other. Finally they agreed to allow him to see Temesgen for two minutes. Tariku noticed that Temesgen back pain has worsened and has caused him difficulty when walking. The family continues to worry extremely about his health condition. Nevertheless, the Temesgen’s lawyer stated that any prisoner shall have visitation rights and shall receive medical treatment when necessary under the government constitution. All his rights are denied. His lawyer also confirmed that there is a clear violation of law by referring to the prisoner rights. He plans to appeal to Human Rights organization and the court. Hoping they will intervene and compel the Ziway Prison authorities to allow the family to visit Temesgen and to get him the proper medical treatment.

It was indicated that the jailer has not told Temesgen that his families were denied to visit him. They kept him in dark to be a silent victim. One can imagine what is going in his mind not seeing his friends or family members for long time. It is one form of torture the TPLF/EPDRF’s

regime often use and a retaliatory act against him. The VOA interviewer said he also made calls to the Ziway’s prison office to inquire about Temesgen. The calls were not answered.

The continuation of denying medical treatment and family visit by Prison authorities is a well-planned action of authoritarian TPLF regime. It is intended to punish him in this cruel manner. Journalist Temesgen’s articles has been voice for voiceless and exposed the TPLF/ EPDRF injustice, deception and violence. Writing articles should not have been a crime. Temesgen writing seen by many as watch dog role and inform the general public by publishing. On the contrary, what the regime actually doing to its own citizens in these manners is pure crime.

Temesgen earned trust by the general public for all his writings in the then free press that is granted by the Constitution. A free press as we know it in democratic countries provides equal rights for all citizens. In Ethiopia, the ruthless regime continued clamping down to silence critical voices for past 24 years. Temesgen has operated within the legal frame work established by the constitution, should not be in prison in the first place. We should continue our call journalist to release them unconditionally, and continue to expose the government misdeed and repression in all fronts.by Ewnetu Sime

posted by Daniel tesfaye

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Andargachew Tsege ‘fears he will die in Ethiopia’

okt 28,2015

A British man locked up for more than a year in Ethiopia fears he could die in prison.

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, a father-of-three, has been detained in the country since he was removed from an airport in Yemen in June 2014.UK “stands shoulder to shoulder” with Ethiopia

Legal charity Reprieve said the 60-year-old asked the British Government to ensure that he is buried in England and told his children to “be brave” during a recent visit by the UK ambassador.

Mr Tsege, a prominent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, was sentenced to death in his absence in 2009 for allegedly plotting a coup – charges he and others deny.

The trial has been described as “lacking in basic elements of due process”.

He fled Ethiopia in the 1970s, seeking asylum in the UK in 1979.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “It is tragic that he now feels the only way he will return home to Britain is in a coffin.

“The Foreign Office must urgently push for his release, so he can return to his partner and children in London before it’s too late.”

Last week, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond discussed the case with the Ethiopian Foreign minister.

Mr Hammond said: “I raised the case of Andargachew Tsege with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister during our meeting on October 21, and made it clear that the way he has been treated is unacceptable.

“I welcome the improvement in access to him, following the British Government’s intervention, but it must be more regular and it must include access to a lawyer.

“I am still not satisfied that Mr Tsege has been given an ability to challenge his detention through a legal process, and this is something we are continuing to pursue.

“The Foreign Office will continue to provide consular support to Mr Tsege and his family.”

Source: BT.com

posted by daniel tesfaye

Foreign Minister dictates orders to VOA at night

okt 26,2015

by Abebe Gellaw

The stormy relationship between the Voice of America (VOA) and the TPLF-led Ethiopian government has recently taken a strange twist after Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom and Ambassador Girma Birru managed to sneak into the headquarters of the U.S. broadcaster at night and convened an unauthorized editorial meeting with some staff members. During the backdoor meeting, the officials of the dictatorial regime tried to dictate guidance to the broadcasters and critiqued the quality of VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia, reliable sources confirmed to this investigation.VOA backdoor meeting with Ethiopian officials

The gathering, which was held behind the back of VOA executives, was held in the editorial meeting room of the Horn of Africa section, located at 330 Independence Avenue, Washington D.C. Strangely enough, the engagement was held out of work hours on a weekend night , Saturday, September 26th, from 7 pm to nearly 9 pm.

Silencing critics

Organized and facilitated by VOA Amharic broadcaster Solomon Abate, along with Betre Siltan from the Tigrigna service, the bizarre meeting between the diplomats and a group of seven VOA staff members–including two technicians, is now being branded inappropriate and disturbing.

In view of the regime’s aggressive tactics to silence critical media coverage at home and abroad, such a meeting with the top officials of a tyrannical regime with a hostile agenda towards VOA has been troubling for those who felt that it violated the legally-mandated VOA Charter and Journalistic Code.

The scandalous meeting was said to be dictated by the need to build trust and cooperation between the journalists and the repressive government, which annually tops almost every list of press freedom violators. During the talks, the top TPLF emissaries availed themselves of the opportunity to exert undue influence to alter the tone and content of VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia by making pleas and veiled threats, said reliable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The foreign minister, who forbid any recording of the intimate discussion, complained that giving platform to critical voices and dissidents including Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 could be tantamount to destabilizing the government. He criticized VOA for focusing on “negative” stories.

Big brother watching

After taking a few questions, the minister expressed his displeasure that the interview he gave to VOA Amharic last July was criticized on VOA by critics of government policies. He told them that such a practice was wrong and should not have happened.

In his controversial VOA interview, the TPLF minister had misrepresented that President Obama endorsed the last elections as democratic contrary to the reality. He also said that prominent dissident Andargachew Tsigie, who was kidnapped last year in Yemen and reportedly tortured in Ethiopia, was being treated well and was even allowed to admire “development” projects. He even claimed that Adargachew was given a laptop to write a book.

Both the minister and the ambassador expressed the government’s readiness to work closely with VOA and facilitate any supports and assistance the journalists may need to bring out positive stories and images, the sources said.

The officials told the gathering with seven VOA employees that VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia should focus on promoting positive progress rather than airing “negative” stories and views, a reference to sensitive issues related to human rights violations, abuse of power and corruption. After listing down some of the progress and improvements he claimed to have been made in the last few years, the foreign minister also invited the journalists to go and see the reality for themselves.

They hinted that the Ethiopian government constantly receives information about VOA’s internal activities. The foreign minister was quoted as saying that they know who does what at the section and told the VOA employees to re-examine themselves and do soul searching.

“There are rules, procedures and codes of ethics that need to be adhered to in these kinds of engagement. It was unusual for a foreign minister to come to VOA newsrooms to chair an editorial meeting with a few people at night when everyone went to bed,” says a staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source said he and a number of staffers felt disappointed with such a meeting that undercut the official channels and undermined the independence of VOA.

“If there is any need to complain about VOA programing or negotiate any deals, the officials should have followed the official procedures and channels instead of convening an editorial meeting at night with a selected group of VOA journalists, who are U.S. federal government employees,” the source noted.

“We are supposed to be independent journalists working for VOA. Why should the foreign minister or the ambassador come to VOA and dictate us how to do our jobs or give us instructions? It is not only inappropriate but also insulting to our intelligence and professional integrity,” another source added. “I strongly believe that VOA should continue its work with no fear or favor,” noted the source.

They pointed out that VOA, as an independent media outlet, has a mission of holding the powerful accountable with factual and truthful reporting. “Nobody can compromise or change the legally-mandated VOA charter and code of ethics.”

Another source indicated that the dubious meeting had the indirect effect of “big brother is watching you.” Some people are very concerned over the incident that calls for a thorough investigation to find out how and why this happened in a federal government building which was supposed to be a very safe and secure place of work.

The officials told the VOA employees that the doors of the Ethiopian Embassy were wide open to them. But a couple of the attendees are said to have already regretted attending the meeting as they claimed to have been misled to believe that the officials were available for a studio interview rather than chairing an editorial meeting.

Abebe Hailu, President of the Ethiopian-American Council expressed dismay and disbelief. “The current development in VOA is very alarming as it undermines the integrity of VOA. As Ethiopian-Americans, we are also patriotic tax-paying citizens of this remarkable nation, the United States of America,” he said.

And that gives us somewhat of an reason to urge that VOA and its staff members not to afford a chance to be dictated by foreign entities. We strongly believe the incident must be investigated by the Inspector General,” he noted.

A history of tension

The regime is widely criticized for extrajudicial killings, torture, abuse of power, corruption, mass displacement, land grab, discrimination and other forms of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity. During the aftermath of the 2005 elections turmoil, the regime had even filed treason and genocide charges against four veteran VOA broadcasters, among so many others, which were dropped after the U.S. government intervened in the matter.

During a visit to Ethiopia of three members of the Broadcasting Board Governors (BBG), which oversees VOA and other U.S. international broadcasters, in June 2011, the tyrannical regime reportedly submitted a lengthy complaint against VOA and a blacklist of dissidents that it wanted to be banned from VOA airwaves. Former VOA Horn of Africa Chief David Arnold had revealed that the regime wanted VOA to deny platform to a number of critics and dissidents. But Arnold was mysteriously suspended after disclosing the demands.

In 2010 the late dictator Meles Zenawi compared VOA to the infamous Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda, which incited the tragic genocide that devastated the nation.

“We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda,” he had said after openly ordering the jamming of VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia.

His accusation was quickly rejected by the U.S. State Department as “baseless and inflammatory”. The State Department replied to the accusation by demanding the government to protect fundamental rights of freedom of expression.

Codes of ethics

VOA code of ethics prohibits employees or contract workers from working for any other state or media outlets without specific VOA authorization. It also emphasizes that in providing accurate information and news to those living under repressive regimes. “Broadcasting accurate, balanced and complete information to the people of the world, and particularly to those who are denied access to accurate news, serves the national interest and is a powerful source of inspiration and hope for all those who believe in freedom and democracy,” VOA journalistic code underlines.

Last year BBG joined BBC, Deutsche Welle and France 24 in condemning the TPLF-led regime for jamming their broadcasts, including VOA, in flagrant violation of well-established international rules and procedures on operating satellite equipment.

“The interference is contrary to the international regulations that govern the use of radio frequency transmissions and the operation of satellite systems, and inhibits the ability of individuals to freely access media according to Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights,” they noted in a joint statement.

“They are disrupting international news broadcasts for no apparent reason. This is a deliberate act of vandalism that tarnishes their reputation,” said Liliane Landor, acting Director of the BBC World Service Group.

Shifting strategy

Allergic to critical voices and media coverage, the regime has tried everything in its power to stop and disrupt Voice of America broadcasts for over two decades. Despite all the efforts, including jamming VOA’s shortwave and satellite broadcasts to Ethiopia, as well as putting diplomatic pressure, it failed to produce the desired effect.

Ethiopia, which tops annual lists of repression, ranked 4th in CPJ’s 2015 rank of 10 Most Censored Countries, just behind Eritrea, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. “In Ethiopia–number four on CPJ’s most censored list–the threat of imprisonment has contributed to a steep increase in the number of journalist exiles. Amid a broad crackdown on bloggers and independent publications in 2014, more than 30 journalists were forced to flee,” CPJ research shows. CPJ blamed the 2009 anti-terrorism law for criminalizing any reporting and freedom of expression.

Notwithstanding all the effort, TPLF’s strategy of jamming and filing false charges against journalists and dissidents has failed to bear any fruits. But its latest effort to directly talk to journalists at VOA and other independent media outlets will undoubtedly have an impact on the Horn of Africa section as the regime is expanding its support network from within and dangling carrots and sticks. It seems there are some who are lured by the dangling carrots in exchange for taking assignments beyond their journalistic duties.

VOA has not yet replied to a list of questions submitted by this reporter on the secret meeting which allegedly had an effect of interfering with VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia through direct and questionable contact from within the newsroom.

posted by daniel tesfaye

እናመሰግናለን! የዞን9 ጦማርያን እና ጋዜጠኞች

October 23, 2015

እናመሰግናለን

Thank You! Zone9 bloggers

በድንገት ከያለንበት ተይዘን እንደታሰርነው አፈታታችንም ግራ የሚያጋባ ነበር፡፡ ተመሳሳይ ክሶች ቀርበውብን እያለ ግማሾቻችን ‹ክስ ተቋርጦላችኋል› ተብለን ተፈታን፣ ግማሾቻችን ደግሞ ‹ነፃ ናችሁ› (ከሳሽ በነፃነታችን ላይ ይግባኝ መጠየቁ እንዳለ ሁኖ) ተብለን ይሄው ወጥተናል፡፡ ቀሪ ክስ ይዘን በዋስ ወጥተን እየተከራከርንም ያለን አለን፡፡ በዚህ ሁሉ መሃል የሁላችንም ዕምነት ግን አንድም ቀን ሊያሳስረን የሚገባ ወንጀል አለመፈፃችን ማመናችን ነው፡፡ መፈታታችን ጥሩ ሁኖ፤ መታሰር በፍፁም የማይገባን ነበርን፡፡ መፃፋችን እና ሕግ እንዲከበር መጠየቃችን ሀገሪቱ አገራችን እንድትሻሻል እና ሁላችንም ዜጎች የተሻለ ህይወት አንዲኖራቸው ከመሻት ባለፈ ሌላ ነገር አልነበረውም/የለውም፡፡ ነገር ግን ይህን በማድረጋችን ተገርፈናል፣ ተዘልፈን-ተሰድበናል፣ ታስረናል ተሰደናልም፡፡ ይህ በፍጹም አይገባንም ነበር፡፡

የእኛ መታሰር ፖለቲካዊ ንቃት የፈጠረላቸው ሰዎች እንዳሉ ሲነግሩን ደስ ይለናል፡፡ በእኛ መታሰር ምክንያት ለመጠየቅና ለመፃፍ በጣም እንደሚፈሩ የሚነግሩን ሰዎች ስናገኝ ደግሞ እናዝናለን፡፡ የመታሰራችን ጉራማይሌ ስሜት እንደዚህ ነው፡፡ ሳይገባን በመታሰራችን የነቁ መኖራቸውን በማወቃችን የምነደሰተውን ያክል፤ ሳይገባን በመታሰራችን የተሰበሩና ከተዋስኦ መድረኩ የራቁ እንዳሉ ስናውቅ እጅግ እናዝናለን፡፡

መታሰር በደል ነው፡፡ ብዙ ነገር ያጎድላል፡፡ መታሰር መልካም ነው፡፡ ብዙ ነገር ያስተምራል፡፡ እኛ በመታሰራችን ሀገራችን የበለጠ እንድናውቃት ሁነናል፡፡ ሀሳብን በነፃነት የመግለፅ ነፃነት አሁንም ብዙ ዋጋ እንደሚያስከፍል ተረድተናል፡፡ ሕግን መከታ አድርገው የኖሩ ‹ስም የለሽ› ዜጎች ሕጉ ሲከዳቸውና እነሱ ላይ ‹በላ› ሲያመጣባቸው ታዝበናል፡፡ ከሁሉም በላይ ፍትህ የሌለባት ሀገር ለዜጎቿ የማትመችና አገር እንደሆነች አይተናል፡፡

በእስራችን ወቅት የተለያዩ በደሎች በተቋም ደረጃ ደርሰውብናል፡፡ ግን አገር ነውና ከይቅርታ የሚያልፍ አይደለም፡፡ ለበደላችሁን አካላት እናንተ ይቅርታ ባትጠይቁንም፤ እናንተ የፈለጋችሁትን ባለማድረጋችንና ሕግን መሰረት አድርገን በመኖራችን ስላስከፋናችሁ እባካችሁ ይቅር በሉን፡፡

በዚህ ሁሉ መሃል ግን እናንተ አላችሁ፡፡ ጓደኞቻችንም ናችሁ፤ ዘመቻ አድራጊዎችም ናችሁ፤ ቤተሰቦቻችንም ናችሁ፤ ጠያቂዎቻችንም ናችሁ፤ ጠበቆቻችንም ናችሁ፣ የመንፈስ አጋሮቻችንም ናችሁ ርቀት ሳይገድባች የጮሃችሁልን አለም አቀፍ የመብት ጠያቂዎችም ናችሁ … በመታሰራችን የተረዳነው አንዱ ትልቅ ነገር የናንተን መልካምነት፣ የናንተን አጋርነት እና የናንተን የማይሰለች ድካምና ፍቅር ነው፡፡ እናንተ ባትኖሩ ‹አጭሩ› የእስር ጊዜያችን ይረዝምብን ነበር፤ ‹ቀላሏ› እስር ትከብድብን ነበር፡፡ ምስጋና ለናንተ፤ እስራችን ‹አጭር› – ፈተናችን ‹ቀላል› እንዲሆን አድርጋችሁልናልና፡፡

እናንተ ወዳጆቻችን ለሁሉም ነገር – እልፍ ምስጋና

እናመሰግናለን!
የዞን9 ጦማርያን እና ጋዜጠኞች

posted by daniel tesfeye

Mr. Obang Metho’s Testimony Before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs

October 3, 2015

Mr. Obang Metho's Testimony

Hearing on International Financial Institutions and Human Rights

Date: September 30, 2015
Given by: Mr. Obang O. Metho,
Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia

I would like to thank the Chairman of the Commission for inviting me to testify at this important issue International Financial Institutions and Human Rights. I want to especially thank the Chairman and Co-Chair, of the TLHRC for their extraordinary leadership in bringing the case of International Financial Institutions and Human Rights to the attention of this Commission; particularly in light of the many pressing global issues.

Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE

Mr. Chairman, I am not here as an expert, a scholar or researcher; but instead, I am here as a defender of human rights for human beings. I am the Executive Director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, (SMNE) a social justice organization of diverse Ethiopians, which is based on the principles of “putting humanity before ethnicity or any other differences” and caring about the well being of others as we do about ourselves not only because it is right, but also because “none of us will be free until all are free.”

I am here today on behalf of the people of Ethiopia; in particular, the Anuak people living in the Gambella region of southeastern Ethiopia regarding their appeal to the World Bank. In that appeal, they requested an inspection of the World Bank’s project in Ethiopia, known as Promoting Basic Services (PBS), Phase III, in regards to the harm it was causing to the Anuak people in the Gambella region of the country. Their appeal was based on claims of harm caused as a result of the WB’s non-compliance with its own policies; in particular, regarding a resettlement program that had led to the mass eviction of Anuak from their ancestral homes. That appeal ultimately led to a full-scale investigation by the World Bank’s Inspection Panel; the outcome of which was a determination that the World Bank had violated its own rules, safeguards and protocols; and in doing so, had harmed the Anuak, the same people they had intended to help.

While the results are encouraging, my concern today is the failure of the WB to take meaningful action in response to this determination, which had been submitted in a formal report to WB Management on November 21, 2014. Even though these Anuak, and many others living in the region, have suffered significant damage to life, livelihood and property; no reparations have been made, no corrective actions have been taken and no one has been held accountable, including the Government of Ethiopia (GoE). In fact, even though the GoE was found responsible for the misuse of funds, the lack of the required financial accounting records for where the money went, and for much of the harm suffered by the Anuak; the WB recently provided $350 million in new funds to the GoE, without requiring any satisfactory resolution of these serious issues. Where are the WB mechanisms meant to deal with such egregious violations? Where is the assurance to the victims that WB funds will not again be used to harm them?

In 2015, the Anuak people are at greater risk of extreme poverty and human rights abuses than ever. Since 2008, according to a study by Oakland Institute, some 60% of Anuak have been forced from their indigenous land. Many have been victims of human rights abuses and more are in extreme poverty. Many of these many have fled to refugee camps; not only for safety, but because they no longer had a means to feed themselves. Health care does not exist and education is extremely lacking. Older boys from the rural areas often leave their homes to seek an education in Gambella Town; however, they often are targeted by the GoE. Numbers of them have been arrested and jailed for no reason; others have disappeared. Anuak who speak out are silenced, including one Anuak man, Omot Agwa, a well-respected pastor who provided translation to the World Bank’s appeal team and inspection panel.

The close link between his arrest and his translation work is similar to the outcome of others who speak out. In a one-party, ethnic-based government, which recently claimed 100% of the votes in the May 2015 election, it is not surprising. They have no appetite for truth, especially when it jeopardizes the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars of WB money. Pastor Omot is now in prison, charges with trumped up crimes. In nearly every aspect of well being, the Anuak are worse off today than they were in 2008.

The basis for my representation today is also personal. The people affected by the actions of the WB are people I know. They are family members, friends, former classmates, community members and people I have known from a young age as I am also of Anuak ethnicity. These are people I know by name. The areas affected are villages, towns and places where I have been. This region, Gambella, is where I was born and raised.

Ethiopia is my motherland; yet, the current ruling government has failed to view the Anuak, other indigenous people of Gambella, as well as many of the other people of Ethiopia—like those in the Omo Valley, Benishangul-Gumuz, the Somali region, the Afar region and in other places, as equal members of society even while desiring their resources.

As an example in regards to the Anuak, in December 2003, the federal government brutally targeted Anuak leaders, killing 424 persons within 3 days. The leaders were seen as a threat to the GoE’s plan to exploit the oil reserves discovered on Anuak land. Human rights violations continued for over three years while the drilling of wells proceeded until found dry. Government-led forces destroyed property, schools, health clinics, wells and other limited infrastructure in the region. Countless numbers of Anuak were arrested and jailed. Others fled to refugee camps where they remain.

Anuak indigenous land is located in the rivers of the upper Nile and is seen as highly desirable. It is rich in resources, including extremely fertile land, water, minerals, virgin forests and abundant wildlife. However, the people are seen as obstacles to those in power who want access to such resources. In countries like Ethiopia, the WB’s burden to protect the people from harm is intrinsically linked to ensuring government compliance with WB policies. This did not happen.

Despite this, I want to give appreciation to members of the initial appeal team who worked diligently so as to discover whether or not there was justification to launch a full-scale inspection. They persevered through numerous obstacles, including government roadblocks put in their way to stop the process. However, the conclusion of their efforts provided the factual basis necessary to proceed with a full-scale inspection. I also want to recognize the efforts of the WB Inspection Panel for their arduous work in finding the facts of the case that led to their determination of fault on the part of the bank as well as on the part of the Government of Ethiopia (GoE). So often, a small minority group like the Anuak finds no way for their voice to be heard so I want to give much credit to those who served in this capacity.

There is no debate in regards to the Panel’s findings. After the report was leaked to the public, WB President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, himself, publically acknowledged the findings of the Inspection Panel. He admitted to WB’s error in not following their own protocols and that they failed to implement WB safeguards which could have intervened to protect the Anuak from harm. However, since this time, the Management has stopped short of taking corrective action—actions that are required as part of WB protocols. Such a finding should have had an effect on future disbursements to Ethiopia. Leverage should have been used to require reparations and other appropriate corrective actions, but it did not happen. Therefore, if the WB Management is not enforcing their protocols, someone else should do so. That is why a hearing like this before US Congressional members is so important. If the WB fails to take action, the Congress is in a position to do so in order that the law is upheld in this regard.

Specific requirements: The goals of the Protective Basic Services, Phase III were to expand access and quality of basic services through block grants (mostly salaries) and by strengthening capacity, accountability, transparency, and financial management of the government at the regional and local levels. It was to include increased citizen engagement as a mechanism of accountability and the results would be evaluated in terms of such things as improved access and quality of services, inclusiveness, sustainability, fairness, equity and regular checks on financial accountability and transparency. Funding of salaries accounted for 80% of the block grants, leaving 5% for recurring expenses and 15% for other expenditures.

What happened: The GoE used the PBSIII block grants to implement their own villagization program, the Commune Development Programme (CDP), with the goal of resettling Anuak from the rural areas to villages they chose under the pretext that they were moving them to more central locations where more services would be available, such as schools and health clinics. Instead, this program was used as a means to force Anuak from their highly fertile ancestral land in an involuntary resettlement program. Vacated Anuak land was then leased to foreign and domestic investors. These mass evictions resulted in the loss of livelihoods, food and stability.

Human rights abuses, rape, arrests, and even death accompanied these massive land grabs as the government forces and regional authorities punished any who resisted, often in conjunction with those carrying out this WB program through officials receiving their salaries from WB funds.

The Anuak left food sources, crops ready for harvest, homes and village communities behind; however, when they arrived in these new settlements, supposedly meant to provide more services; they ended up under trees, with little access to clean water. They had to build their own shelters and clear their own land without the tools to do so. The land itself was not as fertile or well-watered as what they left. The services promised were lacking. Food was scarce and some died of starvation. Many had to depend on food aid if and when it was available. In desperation, many Anuak left for refugee camps in Kenya and South Sudan due to the hardship they faced and the human rights abuses perpetrated by the government. Although the GoE insisted the program was voluntary and that the Anuak would benefit; none of it was true. Funds from the PBS block grants were utilized to implement this program that instead, harmed the Anuak.

Concerns: At the time, Human Rights Watch, Oakland Institute and others conducted investigations on the land grabs and their effects on the Anuak people of Gambella. In the results, they found ample evidence that strongly substantiated the grievances of the Anuak. Human Rights Watch shared this information with the 70 members of the Development Assistance Group (DAG) and the WB Management; however, when WB Management received the reports, they gave responsibility to other donors from DAG to conduct a mission on these allegations. In those missions, DAG found no evidence existed of the forced relocations or of systematic human rights abuses of the Anuak. However, when the WB Inspection Panel later investigated the appeal, it was determined there was evidence of harm, which is the basis of the current acknowledgement of failing to follow WB safeguard protocols.

Obstacles: The task of determining whether or not violations occurred has not been easy due to the government’s obstructions put in place in order to manipulate the results. The initial WB appeal team, whose duty it was to determine whether or not there were grounds for a full-scale investigation, found that those Anuak they interviewed in Gambella were fearful of consequences if they revealed the truth. However, in a leaked recording of a regional government meeting in preparation for Anuak to be interviewed by the appeal team, one can hear regional authorities intimidating those in attendance to give the government’s spin on the villagization program, stating that $650 million dollars of WB money was at stake.

When this WB appeal team later interviewed these Anuak in Gambella, people were hesitant to talk or to say anything negative about the program; however, when the team traveled to the refugee camps in Kenya and South Sudan to interview others, the evidence was found in abundance. This is a government that has gone to great lengths to silence the people; not only in Gambella, but throughout the country. It is why Ethiopia has been found to be the second greatest jailer of journalists and political prisoners in Africa, only following Eritrea.

Now, they have punished Omot Agwa, the WB interpreter for making the truth known. He was on his way to a conference on food security when he was arrested under false charges in May of this year. Failure of the WB and others to demand his release will send an alarming message to others that will ensure that future investigators will find it difficult to find someone willing to take such risks.

Comment on the exclusion of human rights violations as a mandated component of the report: There existed a close link between the GoE’s resettlement program, which was heavily funded by WB funds, and the widespread commission of human rights violations in association with it. Despite this, the Inspection Panel was limited in its mandate from including the violation of human rights in association with the project. Neither were they able to consider the underlying purposes of the GoE’s resettlement program as it also exceeded their mandate. However, the underlying goal of the resettlement program—to take over Anuak land—has been largely accomplished with the use of WB funds to carry out its implementation. Both are major negative and harmful outcomes to the Anuak that resulted from the PBS Phase III program. It is believed that the exclusion of these two very important components should not be overlooked.

Conclusions: Despite the clarity of the report regarding the WB’s failure to follow their own protocols and as a result, the harm done to the Anuak people; and despite the lack of any corrective measures, why has the WB still provided $350 million in new funds to Ethiopia? You in the US Congress have a responsibility now. If the bank’s role was to help the people and instead it harmed them, does it not reinforce wrongdoing on the part of Ethiopia if there are no consequences? If our world’s leading institutions choose to live this way; our world is in danger. If the intention of the WB is to help and it does not, it is no different than the rhetoric coming out of countries with autocratic governments who say one thing but do another.

Like in Ethiopia, they claim to be democratic, but yet they violently and illegally close off all political space. They hold an election, but regardless of the votes or will of the people, they declare an absurd 100% victory for themselves in the last election. They claim to follow the rule of law, but instead use it to target the innocent and to support their own wrongdoing. They claim to fight terrorism; but instead, they have criminalized dissent, labeling those who speak the truth as terrorists. They claim to have civic institutions, but instead have closed down those that are independent and then propped up their own. They produce mountains of propaganda while denying others freedom of expression. They claim double-digit economic statistics to the world although no one is allowed to authenticate it. Crony capitalism thrives while those of the wrong ethnicity or politics are blocked from participation. The only place people can reasonably expect to find the accountability and transparency that is outlawed in Ethiopia, is from outside institutions like the WB; but if the WB fails to do their job, what is left? The world is in trouble.

The gap between extreme poverty and the rich has been exacerbated by the failure of institutions like the WB when they turn a blind eye to their own internal reports. Will members of the Congress who have set up this hearing and those others who care about doing what is right, take the higher moral ground? We need truth, action and accountability; not rhetoric or image preservation. What is the reason for laws, constitutions, international goals and challenges if they do not protect the well being of the most vulnerable from those who are misusing their power? We should not take the higher road only when it is expedient or because someone is watching, but because it is the right thing to do. If such laws and guidelines are open to be ignored, it is better to discard them rather than use them as a pretense.

In Gambella, despair is everywhere as the Anuak and other indigenous people are actively blocked from opportunities. Many have left and have found life in refugee camps to be difficult, but still they are not going back. The ancestral land of the Anuak no longer welcomes them. Forests of Shea trees have been cut down. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land are now in the hands of new investors, both foreign and domestic.

A recent report from the Ministry of Investment and Trade that was leaked several months ago tells more about what happened to the ancestral land of the Anuak since 60% of them were forced to leave. Who is there now?

According to the report, 22% of that land is now being leased to foreign investors from places like Saudi Arabia, India and China. The other 78% is reportedly leased to domestic investors. Who are those domestic investors? In the report, 155 individual investors are listed by name. Also included is their property location, the amounts on the loans they have received from the government and their ethnicity. First off, where else in the world is ethnicity included as part of such a report other than in Ethiopia?

Here are the conclusions. All but three of those out of 155 domestic investors are listed as “Tigrayan,” the same ethnicity as the ethnic group in control of the GoE. The Tigray region is in the northeastern part of Ethiopia. Tigrayans make up approximately 6% of the population. Not one Anuak is on that list; nor are any others from the local indigenous people. These domestic investors have had easy access to loans in the millions from the government-controlled banks of Ethiopia. This is the conclusion of the outcome of the Protection of Basic Services Plan Phase III. This should tell it all. The program has failed the people, forced them into more serious poverty, driven them from their homes and now those in power have taken over. Is there any outrage from anywhere? Let me explain who is in power.

The Tigrayan Peoples Democratic Front (TPLF) is one of the four ethnic-based parties that makes up the ruling coalition party of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF has been in power since 1991, but it is the central committee of the TPLF that controls all aspects of the government as well as every sector of society. The TPLF was classified as a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group by the US State Department prior to taking over the government. Their robbery, corruption, repression, human rights crimes and favoritism towards one ethnic group and political party has led to simmering tensions in the country. Many fear these are ingredients that could explode into ethnic-based violence and greater instability. Donor funding of such programs where the TPLF/EPRDF controls and misuses the funds to the great harm of the people, such as in this case, is widespread and may result in contributing to this frightening outcome. It is time do what is right.

WB Management has not yet come out with any statement condemning the arrest of their translator, Pastor Omot Agwa. This is a man who took positive action when there was local violence between different ethnic groups in the past. He established an organization to prevent further violence and to advance peace and reconciliation among the people. He is known as a family man who was not involved in politics in the past, but was willing to speak the truth. The reason why he is now locked up is because the Ethiopian government sought to punish him; believing he was the one that helped to get the information out. They are angry and embarrassed by the report; however, because they cannot go after the WB, they go after the little guy, the translator. It is shocking to the people to see Omot Agwa as an innocent man locked up in jail for no other reason than for his translation work for the WB. The government will never admit to this and will give assurance of other crimes; but this is false and not to be trusted.

Meetings between the GoE and the WB Management may have taken place behind the scenes, but there is no transparency, no accountability and no results. In the name of trying to help the people, they have abandoned those they intended to help. This man was never arrested before and it is dismaying to his family and those who know him to be a man of great faith, peace and integrity. If he had not translated for them, he would not be in jail today. He probably never thought the WB would be absolutely silent on his arrest. This is unconscionable and a sign of the moral failing of the international donor community. I call on them to use their leverage to gain the release of this man and all other prisoners of conscience because the credibility and image of the bank and others in the international community who involved in Ethiopia are at stake.

In closing, we have learned that discussions have taken place regarding possible reparations to the Anuak for harms done; however, we have also learned that discussions are at an impasse because the TPLF/EPRDF insists that any funds received must be channeled through the GoE government, not through a neutral second party or non-governmental organization.

Why is the GoE calling all the shots, but still receiving WB monies? Is there any reason why the WB and now the US Congress should support such a dictate when the GoE has already abused the specified conditions to receive WB funds? It is time to be accountable to the people by either finding a mutually agreed upon alternative or to stop WB disbursements to Ethiopia altogether. Do the Anuak or other Ethiopians really want more WB funding if it is used by a corrupt and opportunist government to rob the people of our land, our livelihoods, our lives and our futures? I think not.

Every incentive in Ethiopia: financing, budgetary or military support, market access must be contingent on independent committee monitoring the expenditure and the disclosure of the background of all party owned and affiliate businesses and nongovernmental org involved. Private Foundation must be required to do the same. For example USAID supports Alameda Textile and Guna Trading place (both the largest exporters) that receives help as exporter of textile and coffee and other commodities with AGOA incentive.

SMNE will continue to reach out to Congress and the justice department to help in the criminal probe of these ruling party’s affiliated corrupt businesses operating in US and at home taking advantage of the incentive provided for real businesses to face charges and to lift the shielded by the state department. The bottom-line is, the ruling party TPLF/EPRDF is systematically robbing the country and the international community in daylight while the World Bank and State Department and Foundation pour in money to finance its corruption and failed to demand basic transparency and disclosure. The Obama administration is shooting itself allowing such blunt corruption to go on. Only congress can intervene and congressional budget office can investigate to identify where they money goes and who is involved

In World Bank’s President Dr. Kim’s recent speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week he spoke of setting “clear goals that would enable our wills, our minds and our actions to actually help those in need;” showing “greater boldness to help the poor lift themselves out of misery and extreme poverty.” These are all lofty goals and principles. Will they apply to the Anuak, other Ethiopians and others similarly suffering throughout the world? This is an opportunity for the WB to demonstrate they mean what they say. We hope so! Many of us are watching! May God help us! Thank you!

Recommendations:

I call on the U.S. Congress to take concrete action on the following points:

1. The World Bank Board must not accept the Bank Management’s denial of responsibility and its Action Plan that refuses to address the harms experienced by the Anuak or the systemic flaws in the PBS modality.

2. The World Bank Board should require the Bank Management to fundamentally reform PBS to ensure that its resources are not used to abuse people and that its benefits accrue to Ethiopia’s marginalized populations, including the Indigenous Peoples of Gambella. Results must be measured by development outcomes realized for intended beneficiaries and not merely by outputs that ignore the context in which they are delivered.

3. For the World Bank other International Financial Institutions system to meet its goals, it will require increased scrutiny, modifications, ongoing evaluation—both internal and from partners and shareholders, and their own transparency and accountability, especially in upcoming decisions that may lead to loosening rather than tightening regulations that will affect many of the most voiceless people in our world.

4. To best ensure improved food and livelihood security on the continent, borrowers should show successful progress towards increased land ownership, basic freedoms, respect for human rights, good governance, entrenching the rule of law, political space, independent institutions and increased transparency and accountability. These components should become more, not less, integral to those countries seeking participation in the WB’s projects.

5. What the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions needs are more safeguards, not fewer. The bank and other International Financial Institutions don’t have to accept the statistics given by a government, like in the case of Ethiopia, where evidence of the manipulation of data and statistics exists. Instead, the WB should require greater transparency and accountability.

6. The regime in Ethiopia has become the darling of the foreign aid community, but its own people, especially the most vulnerable, views it as a robber baron. If no one from the World Bank challenges Ethiopia’s self-proclaimed statistics, the people will suffer and are already experiencing that. The people themselves will tell you that Ethiopia is exploiting WB loopholes. The privileged elite are in fact doing much better, but food and livelihood security are not improving for the majority. This was not the intention of these funds.

7. Where freedom is denied to the majority, we cannot hope to attain genuine economic growth or sustainable development by underwriting the means for the elite to stay in power. Indicators must be accurate, based on verifiable facts in order to enable the most vulnerable peoples’ participation in a free market where opportunity is available not only to the families, cronies, and tribe of one exclusive group. If the government does not want to comply, there should be real consequences. If the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions do not demand it, then it is not just undermining the goals of their own organization, it is increasing insecurity, the exploitation of their target beneficiaries by the powerful, and decreasing the freedom and wellbeing of the people.

8. Currently, there is a move to ease restrictions on money, trade and aid as various international players vie for a piece of Africa. Increased willingness to cater to African strongmen at the expense of democratic ideals, human rights and inclusive development is putting the African people at risk. Some are gravitating toward the Chinese model of aid, development and trade where such values as human rights, basic freedoms and protecting the environment are “non-issues.”

9. The World Bank and other International Financial Institutions should not take the short-cut, forgetting about these issues that are so important to Africans. It is a moral question that requires standing firm to the original goals of the bank. Are these goals just rhetoric or meaningful policy guides? Reportedly, 15 million people around the world are displaced every year in the name of development. The majority of them are among the most vulnerable people in our world—those who should benefit the most from these development projects. This must change.

10. If the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions don’t require transparency and accountability, the indicators will be flawed and used as propaganda against the people like as in Ethiopia. World Bank indicators, if incorrect, still gain further legitimization when they are repeated and utilized by the international community and others who believe in their authenticity. It traps the neediest in a cycle of poverty.

11. The opportunity for Africans to rise is coming, but African people want partners who support inclusive development not crony capitalism development. It is a challenge for the International Financial Institutions and international community members who want to “do business” and partner with Africans in the coming years to choose between the people of Africa and the authoritarian governments that exploit them. I hope the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions will stand up for the people and remain true to its calling!

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Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Obang Metho, atObang@solidaritymovement.org if you have any further questions or concerns

posted by daniel tesfaye

Ethiopian runners begin new lives after fleeing to the United States

October 1, 2015

Athletes who suffered political persecution face an anxious wait to find out if their asylum claims are successful and they can resume their careers

Ethiopian runner Genet Lire cries

(The Guardian) Genet Lire locked herself in a bathroom stall at Dulles International Airport and hid. The clock was ticking. If she was found, she would have to get on the plane and return home. She feared she would be locked up again, probably beaten, and her family terrorised. The time passed slowly: five minutes, 10, 15, 20. Feet tapped on the tile floor. Doors opened and closed. Every noise and shuffle made Lire’s chest tighten.

This was supposed to be a quick layover. Lire was a 17-year-old sprinter from Ethiopia, in the US to compete in the 2014 International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon. But she had no intention of reaching the starting line. She and her team-mates flew in from Addis Ababa. They rushed to their gate, watched their bags board the big jet, and that’s when Lire saw her chance, slipping away to the bathroom as the flight began to board.

She didn’t know it at the time, but not far from Dulles, in and around the Washington area, there was an entire community of Ethiopian runners in similar situations. They were beaten and persecuted back home, almost all for political reasons. They feared for their lives and sought asylum in the US, most putting their promising running careers on hold for the chance at stable and safe lives. About three dozen Ethiopian runners have congregated in the Washington area, many in just the past three years, and 12 agreed to share their stories.

Some requested their full names not be used, fearful their families in Ethiopia would face retribution. The details vary, but some threads are consistent: they all had been imprisoned but never charged; most used visas they’d received through their track careers to flee; they were all beaten; and many have struggled to acclimatise to a new life, far from family and lacking the time and resources to continue running competitively. “They get here and are physically and emotionally traumatised,” said Kate Sugarman, a doctor who has treated many. “Some can’t even run because of injuries they suffered during beatings. I think they’ve lost their confidence and arrive here without a lot of hope.” The runners have varying skill levels, but most are long-distance specialists, having competed in marathons from New York to China. They’ve won big races in Europe and North America and claimed titles across Africa. One man in his mid-20s once completed a marathon in two hours and eight minutes. Only two American-born distance runners have ever run faster.

Lire was a rising star ; a promising sprinter in a nation of distance runners. Less than a month earlier, she had won the national title in the 400 metres, setting an Ethiopian record, and was now to compete in the US. A strong showing at the World Junior Championships last July would’ve been an important step to representing Ethiopia in the 2016 Olympics.

Instead she sat in the Dulles bathroom, half-scared she would be spotted and half-scared she wouldn’t. All she had were the clothes on her back and a red Adidas backpack. Inside were photos of her family, friends and the life she was escaping. Lire felt she had no choice. She had spent several weeks discussing the trip to America with her family, and they all urged her to flee at the first opportunity.

After 30 minutes, Lire cautiously opened the bathroom door. The plane was gone, with her team-mates and coaches. She looked around and approached a man with a friendly face. In her native Amharic, she said, “Please help me.”In Addis Ababa, Haile Mengasha refused to join the ruling political coalition – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – and said he was detained for a week in 2012. His interrogators repeatedly struck him in the head and held a flame to his feet. It took many years to raise enough money, but he finally was able to fly to the United States for a half-marathon with no intentions of returning home. The 25-year-old now works in a Washington liquor store and runs when his aching back allows. Mengasha said many days are “dark” and his future uncertain, but that it beats the alternative.

“I’d rather commit suicide in America than return to Ethiopia,” he said.

Others share similar stories. Authorities accused them of spreading propaganda or conspiring against the EPRDF. Most of the runners now living in Washington say they were never politically active back in Ethiopia. They simply refused to join the EPRDF. In some cases, their biggest offense was having relatives who refused to join.

“I told them I don’t support any other government. I just wanted to live by myself,” said one runner who was imprisoned for a week in 2010. “I didn’t have any politics.”

Once detained, most were beaten for days on end. For Tesfaye Dube, it was 10.

“They were coming every single day, beating me, saying, ‘We know what you are doing. You are sabotaging, you’re helping the opposition parties. You have to stop doing that or we’ll kill you,’” Dube recalled.

For Taddase Hailu, it was seven.

“In the morning, they’d come to take me to a dark place to beat me,” he said. “I’m never sure I’d live the next day.”

Hailu suffered a stab wound in his lower back, was beaten with a baton and kicked with heavy boots. Worst of all, they targeted his back and Achilles’, which two years later still prevents him from running at peak form.

“They told me, ‘If you can’t run, you’ll never go anywhere,’ “ he said.

Most detainments lasted only a few days or weeks. There were never criminal charges, no due process, attorneys or visitors. Often families were unaware their loved ones had even been imprisoned at all.

Many of the Ethiopian runners belong to the Oromo ethnic group, which accounts for more than one-third of the country’s population, according to the most recent census, making it by far the most populous ethnic group. “Oromo is no good to them,” explained one runner, who was detained three times but never faced charges.

Oromos hold few positions of power in Ethiopia, and the EPRDF has governed the nation for more than two decades. In May, Ethiopia held its most recent national election, and the EPRDF and its allies swept every one of the 547 parliamentary seats.

“Most of the stories you hear now out of Ethiopia are about this sort of economic growth and development happening,” said Felix Horne, a researcher with the Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog and advocacy group. “But there are real stories about people who aren’t part of that success, who question the government and suffer pain and torture because of it.” Lire left the airport with a sympathetic man, who happened to be from Botswana, and began trying to navigate her new life. She was quickly connected with fellow Ethiopians, nonprofit organisations and a church that offered help. Washington was nothing like her home, a rural farming community outside the southern Ethiopian town of Hosaena where her father grew rice and beans. He was part of an opposition party called the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Coalition, and faced persecution for years.

Lire remembers one of the first times authorities came for her father. She was eight years old, and the family was fleeing their home on foot. She sprinted, trying to keep up with her father, and remembers a sudden burst of pain. A spear barely missed her father but struck Lire in the right arm, where a decade later she still bears a scar the size of a tennis ball. She tumbled and became entangled in barbed wire, the spikes tearing into her scalp. Her father was carrying her three-month-old brother when he tripped and fell. The baby was crushed and died. Lire’s father was taken into custody. He was released after a week but detained many more times in the ensuing years.

That was about the time Lire started running. Always barefoot, she sprinted everywhere: to school, for chores, around the fields. She won early races wearing flat shoes and a dress and began catching the eyes of local running clubs. Her running career began garnering attention, and last June, despite being younger than others in the starting blocks, she set a national record, running the 400 metres in 51.44sec. Her track career was taking off just as she was approaching voting age in Ethiopia. Because she would turn 18 before the national election, she’d been feeling pressure for several months to join the EPRDF. Just like her father, she refused. “The party is not for the people,” she said.

She and her family decided that she’d flee at the first opportunity. She won $250 in prize money last May competing at the African Youth Games in Botswana, and spent half of it on a camera, intent on capturing every facet of her life. “My history,” she calls it. She didn’t have much time. Last June, just two weeks before the World Junior Championships in Oregon, she was detained. She recalls a small room, packed with too many people to count – too crowded for everyone to lie down at the same time. Even as plainclothes security officers made threats about her running career, she knew she was given preferential treatment because of her potential. She was allowed to train in the mornings but was locked up each night, never certain what the next day held, when she’d see her family again or whether she’d be allowed to compete. Lire made no promises and refused to pledge loyalty. After 10 days, she was released. Three days later, she said goodbye to her family, stuffed her photo album in the red backpack and boarded the flight.

For those making such a perilous journey, the transition is never easy. Arriving in the US might mitigate some fears, but many other issues quickly surface: a complicated legal system, housing, employment, separation from loved ones. It’s no wonder some runners say they dream of being back home. “My heart is still always with my family,” said Hussen Betusa, 37, who left his wife in Ethiopia after authorities detained him for 15 days in 2012. “I’d love to go back, but I cannot. They’d kill me.”

The transplanted Ethiopian runners abscond to the US for safety more than opportunity. When they arrive, many struggle to assimilate, often navigating a legal maze to seek asylum as they desperately search for day-to-day normalcy.

EB is one of several runners who is fearful that his family will face retribution if he reveals his full name. The 35-year-old was an accomplished runner who raced in the US, Europe, and all over Africa. In 2013, EB had just finished a training run in Addis Ababa when he was stopped and beaten on the street. He went to a police station to file a complaint and that’s when he was arrested. He was detained for 10 days of “hitting, slapping, yelling”. “The memories – it’s still happening in my mind,” he said. EB was released and felt he had no choice: He had to leave Addis Ababa as quickly as possible. “If I stay there, maybe I don’t live much longer,” he said.

So he moved to the US in the summer of 2013 and slowly started adjusting to his new life. He even entered – and won – an East Coast marathon later that year.

But EB felt like he was living in two places: his body in Washington, his heart and mind some 11,500km away. He received reports from back home that authorities were looking for him and were regularly harassing his family. They’d visit his younger sister at school, asking, Where is your brother? Are you talking to him? What is he doing?

In early 2014, he learned his younger sister had taken her own life, and he blamed the political tormenters for her death. He also blamed himself. “If I was just man enough to face that,” he said, “my sister would still be alive. It was because of me being here.” He stopped running. He stopped doing much of anything. EB felt hopeless and spent his days contemplating taking his own life.

EB met with psychologist Sheetal Patel, who specialises in working with torture survivors. He was barely a shadow then. Patel saw a man who wasn’t living and a runner who wasn’t running. “There were just so many barriers,” Patel said. “He’d said he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t run. He could barely breathe.”

While the trauma is very real and still very present, Patel said some of EB’s wounds were somatic – his quiet voice became almost muted, the words unable to pass through his throat. Slowly, Patel and the physician Sugarman worked with him, encouraging him to talk, to open up, to lace up his running shoes. Sugarman invited him in January to join her running group for a five-kilometer fun run. And then he did 10k, followed by a half-marathon.

It’s a slow, difficult process, EB said. He learned long ago something every good marathon runner must accept: there are points along the course where the pain seems unbearable, where every step feels like it’s surely the last. A marathon is about surviving, enduring agony and somehow finding the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

“Even if there’s pain, you learn to keep going,” EB said.

Saying goodbye to family is perhaps the toughest part for the Ethiopians runners. Many were married back home, some had children. One runner, a 31-year-old marathoner, for example, left behind a wife and 16-month-old son.

“I get here, and everything is different. It’s not like what I wished in my mind,” he said. “I thought it’d change my life. It’s not happening. The opportunity is not like that.”

The distance from his family resulted in depression. He struggled finding work and steady housing. Like many of the runners, he found some assistance from a nonprofit called Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), which provides transitional housing, legal assistance, health services, counseling and job placement. The organization serves over 300 survivors annually, about 80 percent of whom are Ethiopian.

“Some people are literally coming to us straight from the shelter or from the street,” said Gizachew Emiru, TASSC’s executive director. “When they come, most of them come with just the clothes they’re wearing. So when they get here, they’re desperate for everything.”

Even after filing for asylum, a person must wait 150 days before applying for employment in the United States. That amounts to five months of scrounging for food, shelter and under-the-table work. The 31-year-old runner, who had competed in Poland, Germany, Austria and Greece, arrived here in 2010 and cleaned houses and worked in hotels.

His asylum was eventually granted, he was permitted to work legally and after three years apart, his family was allowed to join him in the United States. He’s now a line cook at a Marriott hotel and runs nearly six miles to and from his job each day. That 16-month-old baby is now 5 years old and last month attended his first day of kindergarten.

One recent morning, Lire, EB and several other Ethiopian runners gathered in north-west Washington for a short training session. The Black Lion Athletics Club meets several times a week. Founded by Alan Parra, an immigration lawyer who has represented several of the runners, it operates on a shoestring budget and has become a refuge and meeting place for many Ethiopians.

Their coach stood inside the track with a stopwatch and after just a couple of laps, most of the seasoned runners broke into a sweat. As the others slowed, EB kept moving around the track, his gait smooth, graceful and long. He seemed to be smiling, too, looking every bit like a man who could run forever.

He still speaks just a half-notch above a whisper and is still worried about the harassment his family faces back home. But he’s running again and even has plans to compete in a marathon next spring, which would be his first in more than two years.

“Now I am doing OK,” he said.

Her hair tied in a ponytail, Lire was bent at the waist with hands on her knees as she looked down on her shadow and caught her breath. The sweat made the scar on her arm glisten under the sun. She is now 18 and still adjusting to her new life. Those early days were difficult. Lire bounced among Ethiopian families and even spent a couple of nights sleeping outdoors. She recently had to leave a room she was renting because she couldn’t afford the $400 monthly fee. She’s now temporarily living with Parra, who’s handling her case, sleeping on a pullout sofa in his one-bedroom apartment.

She filed for asylum six months ago and is waiting for a response. The process can take months, sometimes more than a year. Since 2010, the US has granted asylum status to at least 8,500 immigrants each year, according to the US Department of Justice. An average of 388 asylum cases were granted from Ethiopia each year, second only to China.

Lire is slowly piecing together her new life. She’s much younger than many of the other relocated torture survivors, so she has few friends here. She misses her family and tears up flipping through her photo album, her “history”. Lire is learning English by watching online videos and listening to Christian radio. Back in Ethiopia, she’d finished the equivalent of the US 10th grade, and Parra is trying to place her in school. He hopes she might soon be able to run track in college, and beyond that, who knows? “My goal is Olympics,” she said. Many of the Ethiopian runners have a similar dream – if not Lire’s talent and potential – but no country to represent.

The IAAF requires athletes to be citizens of a country to represent it in competition. If the athlete changes citizenship, there’s typically a one-year waiting period. The runners who’ve been granted asylum fall into a grey area and must wait five years before they can apply for US citizenship, a lifetime for an elite athlete.

For now, Lire continues training, her immediate and long-term future equally uncertain. She said she’s both grateful and sad to be in the US. She tries to chat on the telephone with her family once every couple of weeks but doesn’t know when – or if – she’ll see them again. For now, Lire figures, the best she can do is honour their wishes and keep running as fast as she can.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post

posted by daniel tesfaye

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