President Obama, Make Kalite Your First Stop in Ethiopia

By The Ethiopian American Council 

July 12, 2015

Mr. President, As you are heading to Ethiopia to make a history by being the first sitting American President to visit that country, we appeal to you to make your first stop at Kalite Prison, the notorious place where over one thousand political prisoners are kept in abhorrent conditions.

In his New York Times op-ed on July 24th, 2013, Eskinder Nega, an independent journalist and blogger serving an 18-year sentence at Kalite on charges of violating the draconian AntiTerrorism Law, vividly describes the prison’s conditions of his incarceration where about 200 inmates are cramped in a small warehouse sharing three toilets and sleeping on an unsanitary floor.

Mr. President, you are well aware of the various reports by human rights groups about the use of the Anti-Terrorism law by the Ethiopian regime to squash peaceful dissent and suppress freedom of speech. For several years now, human rights groups have called on the regime to end its practice.

Just last year, a group of UN human rights experts urged the Government of Ethiopia to stop misusing anti-terrorism legislation:

Two years after we first raised the alarm, we are still receiving numerous reports on how the anti-terrorism law is being used to target journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and opposition politicians in Ethiopia. Torture and inhuman treatment in detention are gross violations of fundamental human rights. Confronting terrorism is important, but it has to be done in adherence to international human rights to be effective. Anti-terrorism provisions need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law, and they must not be abused. 1

Mr. President, we wholeheartedly agree with the United Nations human rights experts’ astute remarks relating to Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law.

You have, Mr. President, the perfect opportunity to visit the thousand political prisoners at Kalite, including Eskinder Nega. Make your visit truly historical by using the venue at Kalite to call upon the regime in Ethiopia to make real political reforms.

Already, in a good will gesture towards your scheduled visit to Ethiopia and to reduce the mounting political criticism, the regime has released five journalists. While celebrating that, we have received a report from Ethiopia that the regime is engaged in arresting bloggers ahead of your visit.

Mr. President, for millions of Ethiopians, you are a source of pride--a son of an African immigrant, who rose to become the President of the most powerful nation on Earth.

In your speech in Ghana in 2009, you succinctly identified what is lacking to enable Africa to compete globally. You said, “In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success - strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples' lives.”

Strong institutions give “life to democracy”---reverberate this message once again from Kalite to every corner of the country. Let the regime know that its path is unsustainable and threatens political instability for the region as a whole.

Mr. President, as your presidency draws to its end, please be mindful of your legacy towards Africa. This is your moment to make a bold move! Give your speech from the notorious prison of Kalite and show the leadership in Ethiopia that they cannot continue to jail their best and brightest.

History will be kind to you if you use your powerful position to highlight the plight of our people.

We welcome you with open arms to the cradle of civilization. May God show you the way!

The Ethiopian American Council!