Below is an update regarding the Urgent Action Appeal launched on 4 January on behalf of elected union officers of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA). Your solidarity is still indispensable as the ETA officers in detention continue to be subjected to torture!
Fate of detained ETA activists
The Ethiopian colleagues arrested in December are part of a larger 'sweep'. On 6 January 2007, Ethiopian National Television announced that "the Federal Police has arrested 500 persons suspected of committing various crimes and inciting violence against constitutionally established government systems." The three ETA officers – Tilahun Ayalew, Meqcha Mengistu and Antenech Getenet – are among the 500.
Tilahun Ayalew, Chair of the ETA Awi zone, and Anteneh Getenet, member of the ETA Addis Ababa Regional Council, were arrested respectively on 14 and 29 December by government security agents. They were transferred to the Addis Ababa Criminal Investigation Bureau, known as Maekelawi. On 1 January 2007, both were brought to the Lideta Borough Initial Court in Addis Ababa. Their case was adjourned until 15 January to "allow the police to undertake further investigation". On 15 January, they were brought again to the same Court, which again extended their detention until 26 January. The judge said that the two unionists are "suspected of working for a subversive association called the Patriotic Front and that the ETA is only a cover." Witnesses present at the Court say the two union leaders have been heavily tortured. Tilahun Ayalew and Anteneh Getenet are still detained in Maekelawi and they have been refused access to a lawyer and to medical assistance. There are still no written charges against them. The ETA is finding out how to provide legal assistance to its two officers.
Meqcha Mengistu, chairperson of the ETA East Gojam Zonal Executive and member of the ETA Committee for the implementation of the EI/ETA Education For All-HIV/AIDS programme, has been reported missing since December 15, 2006. However he was arrested with a friend who is known to be detained in Maekelawi, so there are reasons to believe (to hope?) that Meqcha is also detained in the Addis Ababa Criminal Investigation Bureau.
ETA activists adopted as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International
On 4 January, Amnesty International adopted the three ETA officers as Prisoners of Conscience, and launched an urgent appeal for their release. Amnesty International says they are "prisoners of conscience, held solely for exercising their right to peacefully express their opinions and to work as trade unionists".
Worldwide teacher unions' solidarity
Since the launch of EI's Urgent Action Appeal, EI member organisations have sent protest letters to the Ethiopian Government. Letters have been sent from Algeria, Canada, Central African Republic, Congo, Croatia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Malaysia, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago and the United Kingdom. And letters continue to flood in. In addition, most countries have addressed copies of their letters to their Foreign Office and to Ethiopian representation in their country. A number of teacher unions also pledged to report about the fate of their Ethiopian colleagues in their publication and website and to promote resolutions about trade union solidarity with Ethiopia.
The objective of the solidarity campaign to put the spotlight on the unacceptable behaviour of Ethiopian authorities is achieved! In addition, EI informed the International Labour Organisation, the 'Funding Partners of Ethiopia' and the International Trade Union Confederation to denounce the detention without warrant and acts of torture against trade union officials in the context of their legal trade union activities.
Meeting with the Ethiopian diplomatic mission in Brussels
On Thursday 18 January, EI officers will meet the Deputy Chief of mission of the Ethiopian embassy at the request of the latter.
Other pending issues affecting ETA
Since 1 November 2005, Kassahun Kebede, Chairperson of the ETA Addis Ababa branch, has been imprisoned with 75 other civil society leaders. Their trial started on 2 May 2006 and was adjourned in September 2006. The trial is to resume in February 2007 when the verdict will be delivered.
After this judgement, ETA may possibly recover the computer equipment and documentation confiscated on 14 November 2005 when 10 police officers looted the minuscule ETA headquarters in their "search for evidence". The material seized included one computer (including the screen), a laptop, a fax and a scanner, as well as boxes filled with 42 floppy disks, books, training material and trade union documents. The investigation team made no list of the seized material. The lack of electronic equipment impedes ETA from carrying out day to day union activities and from implementing joint trade union projects as seized documents were used by the ETA as references and to produce evaluation reports and audits.
What can you do?
EI member organisations that have not yet reacted can still address a protest letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister to, at least, stop the torture of trade union leaders.
- Protest to the Ethiopian authorities > a model letter can be found here. The letters should be addressed to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and to your local Ethiopian embassy. A copy of your letter should also be forwarded to EI for our records. Telecommunication is not reliable in Ethiopia, therefore do not hesitate to send your letter by surface mail.
- Contact your Ministry of Foreign Affairs > Inform your ministry about what is going on in Ethiopia.
- Give visibility to the situation of teachers in Ethiopia in your magazine, on your website, during meetings and via other appropriate means.
- EI will of course keep you updated on all developments or when the Urgent Action Appeal is closed. For additional information or to discuss possible action, contact the EI Human and Trade Union Rights Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about EI's action can be found on the EI website.
With your help, EI aims to encourage the Government of Ethiopia to respect freedom of association and to stop immediately the ill treatment of our three colleagues. I thank you in advance for your support of our Ethiopian colleagues.