Education International
Education International

EI supports the candidacy of Prof. Mesfin Wolde-Mariam for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

published 26 September 2006 updated 26 September 2006

EI strongly supports the candidacy of Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam on behalf of its affiliate, the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA), for the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam has been a long-standing defender of human rights in Ethiopia, for nearly four decades. He is a founder of Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) and was its chairman for years. He also was an active member and leader of the Ethiopia Teachers’ Association (ETA) branch of the university teachers' association, and a staunch advocate of teachers' rights. He has been speaking out against violence, authoritarianism, parochialism, extremist ideologies, and the pauperisation of the Ethiopian peasantry since his early days as a university lecturer. He persistently campaigned against the persecution of ETA leaders and members, both in his writings and in his public statements.

Professor Mesfin was also the first Ethiopian intellectual to speak out against the summary dismissal of 42 professors from Addis Ababa University in April 1993 and the repeated and violent suppression of student demonstrators. He wrote newspaper articles, gave several media interviews and press conferences, made public addresses and initiated EHRCO to issue a number of its earliest Human Rights violation reports on this issue of the violation of the constitutional rights of teachers and the repeated violence against student demonstrators.

For this principled stand, he was vilified and demonised repeatedly by the government and ruling party media. Once he was even briefly detained and later charged with incitement for no other reason than giving a public lecture on academic freedom to university students. If anybody has defended the rights of teachers and students in particular, and other Ethiopians in general with such vigour and perseverance despite the enormous risks to his personal safety and well-being, it is Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam.

Today, Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam is behind bars, suffering from pneumonia and pulmonary infection at the age of 76, charged with unsubstantiated and incredulous crimes. Awarding the Sakharov prize to Mesfin Wolde-Mariam will be a great symbolic gesture, by the international community, of solidarity with the victims of human rights violations, in defence of whom Mesfin has dedicated most of his active life. It will also be a great morale booster to other human rights defenders in Ethiopia who are striving against all odds for peace, social harmony, equality and justice.

Amnesty International has already recognized Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam as a prisoner of conscience, since shortly after his second detention happened on 2 November 2005.


The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in December 1985 by the European Parliament as a means to honour individuals or organizations who had dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights and freedoms.

The Prize comes with an endowment of 50,000 euros and is given out at a formal sitting in Strasbourg which falls on or around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.