More than Enough to March for Abiy: A Former Inmate’s Memoir

We have never imaged such a change even in our wishful days at Ma’ekelawi

, #March4Democracy, and #March4Ethiopia  

Kept in darkness, we used to dream the days like the downfall of Derg, where some ‘liberator’  would come and open the prison door and release  us all, possession of supper power, talked about the movie Prison Break, and  dreamed any imaginable thing which can fee us all.  It’s my personal story and story of many youth who suffered with targeted and purposeful torture (physical and psychological) & harassment under TPLF rule. It’s almost a year since I was told that I am ‘free’ to go home, I would say I borrowed my own freedom from dictators who took it, after five month of imprisonment for supposed terrorism act. I was not ‘free’ as they told me; I will be watched all over my life, and I have to choose with whom I associate myself with (as if I could go back in time and delete friendships I had in high school, and not being born in Gondar, as far as I understood they branded me ‘terrorist’ referring my origin nothing more). I left my friends and good hearted people I had met in Ma’ekelawi, of course most have gone to Kilinto to pursue their case in Lideta Court.   

When I left the gate of the prion I was just walking very slowly with my Plastic Bag in my hand, and carefully watching the ‘Ye Addis Ababa Newariwoch’. The dialogues we used to repeat now and again during the nights in prison keep coming to my mind; ‘Do the people of Addis know that there is such kind of person at the centre of the town?’ one who comes from one rural side of Ethiopia would ask. Some of us who knew Addis and read some books by former prisoners would say ‘Of course most people know about it, but didn’t imagine such inhuman act is being committed’. Another would say ‘the majority have not read stories by former pensioners’. When I was ‘free’ person I have read books and stories of former Ma’ekelawi prisoners, but I did nothing besides sympathizing, I knew I was living under tyranny.  
Continuing my journey to Giorgis, looked back and there was no one with police uniform following me and trying to take me back, I said to myself “it is for real, they actually released me’. Stopped at the gate of Giorgis Church and prayed to God “please help my friends, and all Ethiopians imprisoned, I have no power whatsoever to help them’. As a son of EPRDF Cadre and a Cadre himself I knew TPLF would do anything imaginable to anyone which comes on its way, even the people of Tigray. I prayed ‘God do you really want TPLF to continue committing such brutality against your own people? I don’t think so, but in the meantime you are not helping the people who are trying to change things for better, if you don’t help us at least make us accept the slavery’. 
I grabbed my Plastic bag and carefully watched the ‘Court’ (Arada First Instance Court) across the street, where all of us were taken every 28 days to listen to nonsense and get back to our prison cells. The procedure in the court was just to grant time to the regime to torture you more. Every day in the morning a bus full of prisoners form Ma’ekelawi would come and the investigator would read nonsense and we just listened the judge grant him another round of torture for 28 days, complaining will complicate things and doesn’t change anything as far as I understood. These counties for 4th round and finally another 7 days, sometimes they release you after keeping you from 1 up to 5 month without the knowledge of the court. Other times you get your charge and sent to Kilinto to pursue your case at Lideta Court, being sent to Kilinto is a relative relief for all prisoners than staying in Ma’ekelawi. Recapped all these and cried for all my fellows who are still kept in prison, I said “it is a matter of time they will imprison me again and I will join them’. 
After a while I remembered that there are people who are waiting for me. After I was told that I was to be released, my first request was get access to phone. I called my girlfriend (now wife) told her that I am being released. She was confused first then surprised. She told me that she would be waiting for me around a bakery house we know. My father also had come from Gondar to file a complaint to the government (then Command Post) he served for 25 years; he was so staggered by the fact that a party he served for almost half of his life wouldn’t do such a thing on his son. He never understood TPLF/EPRDF as I did, TPLF could do anything to stay in power, from creating of EPRDF to torture and killings. 

I was ‘released’ but the people outside were not welcoming, going to my previous job in one of the ministries, people in power was not happy to see me. I felt people in prison have got a real heart, what heartless monsters are in power? What is wrong with things people? They should be relieved that I am now released, because there is no evidence which can lead the police to sue me. The Police claimed that ‘I took a military combat training in Eritrea, trained the youth at home, and caught right handed when plotting to orchestrate terror in different parts of the country. I also served as a liaison officer to AG7’. In the past seven years I was in same job day and night, how did I attend that military training? Before that I was in university, before that I was only a minor, nobody cares about facts. People in my office were not happy seeing me around whatever the case might be, once a ‘terrorism suspect’ is always a terrorist for them. In every decision they make, and every word they utter they make sure that I am being demoralized again and again. The police was reluctant to give me a letter, expressing that I was in custody for five months and I am now free to continue whatever I want to do in my country. I complained for six month to get back to my old job, and get certified for the degree I have completed before imprisonment, but no easy way to do anything for a ‘terrorist’. In all government offices I was treated as an ‘enemy’, not as a citizen. 

When I tried to get new jobs my fingerprint is already in the database, and I was told that I should bring a letter from the court. I told them there was no formal charge, I wasn’t sued, and it was just investigation. They said I could bring the letter from the Ma’ekelawi again (the evidence is in there hand, they were just creating obstacle, why do the same federal police (Forensic) asks evidence from the same federal police (they call it Tactic investigation)?). Every government department makes sure that I go back to the place I spent my horrible months in life. Ma’ekelawi people are reluctant, they don’t give you a paper even for evidence of imprisonment; they say they would sent it directly to the office who is requesting it. 
When I finally manage to get the certificate from Police, the officer tells me ‘the charge is not lifted’ I said ‘there was no charge it was only investigation why do you put my fingerprint on the data base’, he tells me ‘I can’t help you’. This is one way of reminding me that I am not free, it’s just a matter of time to be back to torture. 

Too much suffering and unpleasant to recount has passed, now we are in an interesting time. Where there is a leader who feels what we have felt, the targeted terror which has been going on for quarter of a century. Most of the people I knew in Ma’ekelawi are now released, and people are celebrating ‘terrorists’ across the nation. Above all I am hopeful that I will not be back to Ma’ekelawi for another round of torture, as one of inmate in Ma’ekelawi, Megerssa Dori, would say to us all the time, ‘Once you are in TPLF Terrorism List, you are a life time terrorist, they would imprison you again & again until you give up all and die’. Today I am hearing that the charge against my childhood friends (Debebe Moges, Kindu Dube) is discontinued. I am now more hopeful that Ethiopian youth will be able to express themselves without resorting to conflict, and fear of harassment and torture. We will learn from the government which treats its people with love and respect. For all the changes I have never dread of, achieved in very short period of time, I will #March4Abiy, #March4Democracy, and #March4Ethiopia on Saturday 23, 2018. 

Mulugeta B. Teferi