The Ethiopian Americans Council Letter to Secretary Kerry

The Ethiopian Americans Council Letter to Secretary Kerry


The Ethiopian Americans Council

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We, the Ethiopian Americans Council write today to urge you to use the leverage you have with the Ethiopian government to immediately and unconditionally release Natnael Felke, a blogger on Zone 9, who is sentenced to prison for 18 years.

On April 24 this year, The Guardian published a letter Natnael wrote to you from prison. In that letter, Natnael described how he met you at Addis Ababa University in 2013 at a discussion forum called by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tedros Adhanom, where he raised concerns about lack of freedom of speech and the government’s concerted effort to drive away the youth from being politically engaged.

His simple statement of fact uttered to you at that forum led the Ethiopian government to eventually shut down the Zone 9 blog and arrest the bloggers. In his own words, in that letter from prison, Natnael said to you, “My charges are tied up with our meeting back in 2013. We met in Addis Ababa University: the minister of foreign affairs Tedros Adhanom invited me and a couple of others for a discussion, in which I raised my concerns about the regime’s tactics to push young citizens away from participating in politics.”

Natnael has been in prison for a year now for simply expressing his frustration directly to you. Imagine languishing in jail without a trial for a year and possibly facing 18 years in prison—all for sharing his thoughts with you.

As he described his prison conditions to you in the letter, it is abhorrent. The regime uses torture routinely—this has been widely documented by many international human rights groups; indeed, the State Department, too, issued damning reports several times before.

In spite of the inevitable danger facing Natnael in prison and the consequences of speaking out while in prison, he dared to once again reach out to you to press the Obama administration to change its policies towards Ethiopia. In that letter, Natnael said, “But to be honest, the amount of time I will be spending in prison is not the most pressing issue on my mind right now. Rather, I am worried about what will happen unless the international community, and specifically your government, assumes a firm stance on Ethiopia, demands progress with democratization, and halts the millions of dollars pouring the regime’s way.”
This brave young man risked his life to call upon the administration to suspend its blind support of the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia.

Natnael is one of the millions of young Ethiopians who are enduring untold political repression under the Ethiopian regime. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians are fleeing Ethiopia in search of a better life only to face a grim reality of being drowned in the Mediterranean sea, routinely tortured and raped by foreign abductors for ransoms, burnt alive and beheaded by religious zealots. The number and magnitude of the Ethiopian refugees has reached a pinnacle point particularly for Europe and the Middle East.

In spite of the gruesome reality awaiting Ethiopians in Northern Africa, the Middle East and even Europe, thousands are still flocking to some of these war zones to get to Europe and Saudi Arabia—they will continue to face torture and death.

This level of desperation and suffering of the Ethiopian people should affect our collective consciousness. More importantly, the Obama administration must recognize that unless the political environment is changed, Ethiopia can soon join the other failed States, further destabilizing the region.

We want to take you back to President Obama’s inspirational inaugural address in 2009, when he emphatically stated these hopeful words: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Those powerful words still ring true. Natnael is right when he says to you in the letter, “I want to assure you that I understand the question of liberty and democracy in Ethiopia should be primarily answered by Ethiopians ourselves.” However, the United States, as one of the largest donors with an estimated annual aide of over $500 million going to Ethiopia, can exert political and economic leverage on the ruling party in Ethiopia to pressure it to open up the political process before the country reaches a point where there is no turning back.

Finally, the young, idealistic and brave Natnael deserves freedom for he has done nothing other than exercise his right as a human being to speak against repression. Even from prison, he is urging the powerful to come to the aide of the suffering Ethiopians.

We hope his story inspires you as it inspires us and moves you to action.

God Bless the United States of America

The Ethiopian Americans Council