Originally appeared: Ethiomedia Editorial | February 10, 2008


Human rights activists Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie – Years in prison “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Faking justice is warping justice. After languishing in prison for two years and a kangaroo trial, on December 26, 2007, Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie were found “guilty”. Nobody really knows what they are guilty of, but they were given credit for time served, and ordered released immediately by the “court”. But they continue to do time long after they have paid for their “crime”. Why?

On December 26, Daniel and Netsanet did not go home. They just disappeared down the “rabbit hole” of Kality prison, the crown jewel of the Meles regime criminal injustice system. Kality is that underworld of legal nihilism — a dark and squalid place where injustice flourishes like brown mushrooms, truth is drawn and quartered, innocence is consumed by wickedness, right is wronged and the ungodly lord over the righteous.

No one can explain why Daniel and Netsanet are still in prison. They don’t know. Neither do their lawyers. The “judges” wring their hands. The prosecutors do what they are told. Only one person knows why Daniel and Netsanet are still in Kality prison, and he is not talking.

But that does not stop us from asking: Why are Daniel and Netsant still in prison after they were ordered released by a “duly constituted court” weeks ago? Why are they prevented from posting bail? Why are they denied their right of appeal and review? Why do they continue to be victimized time and again? Why? Why?

We have our own theories. We believe their arrest, detention, trial and conviction were all about a splendiferous display of fake justice to the international community. Their captors wanted to brag to the world that they convicted these two innocent souls after a 2 year trial. But no one in the international community is fooled. Everyone knows Daniel and Netsanet were arrested for committing fake crimes and violating fake laws. Everybody knows they were convicted in a fake prosecution by fake judges. But that is besides the point. They have now been “convicted” and ordered released. Why aren’t they released?

Perhaps there is more than meets the eye. Daniel’s and Netsanet’s “conviction” in kangaroo court has become a testament to their victory over a fake and unjust system. It is public knowledge that they could have been out months ago if only they had signed the fake pardon papers. But they refused, and persevered. Pardon-peddlers continue to send them daily messages that they can walk out Kality at any time, but they MUST sign the “pardon papers.” For Daniel and Netsanet, the answer is a no brainer: If they’ve said, “No” once, they have said, “No” a thousand times. No deal. They will not sign any papers acknowledging and apologizing for crimes they never committed. At any rate, they have been “convicted”, done their time, and now only demand to be released according to the “law of the land”.

Here is an alternate theory. Daniel and Netsanet’s refusal to sign the “pardon” papers by itself has become an act of monumental defiance which infuriates and infinitely diminishes the moral and legal claims of their captors. Two little guys standing up to a gargantuan system of injustice and simply saying, “No. We will not sign ‘pardon’ papers. We’d rather suffer in jail than purchase our freedom with lies.” Through their simple act of defiance, they have focused the bright search light of truth on a corrupt system of injustice that grinds and swallows its victims by breaking their body and spirit. But not Daniel’s or Netsanet’s. Their spirit is indomitable. They refuse to surrender! For that they condemned and banished to the “rabbit hole”.

But Daniel’s and Netsanet’s story is an allegorical tale of contemporary Ethiopia. It is a story of two extraordinary young men of bottomless integrity, honor, courage and audacity who fight injustice using the weapon of civil disobedience. They refused a “pardon” and in so doing took a courageous act of non-cooperation with their oppressor, his laws and institutions. For their non-cooperation, they are forced to suffer the brutality, indignity and humiliation of Kality prison. In their actions, these two young men proved that non-violent resistance is an effective weapon against the worst form of political persecution. No doubt, their indomitable spirit of non-violence resistance will animate millions of their countrymen and women.

Now the warped system of justice finds itself at the crossroads: Continue to keep these two young men in prison in flagrant and egregious violation of their human rights, or release them immediately as the court that convicted them had ordered. Keeping them in prison any longer validates the claim that the regime’s justice system is hopelessly warped and beyond repair. By releasing them immediately, the regime could gain a smidgen of credibility for its claim that it upholds the rule of law (its own law) and practices simple due process in its justice system. If there was any doubt that Daniel and Netsanet were political prisoners before, there is no doubt that they are political prisoners today for they are being held in gross violation of their human and constitutional rights, without just cause and in direct violation of a “court” order.

It is little consolation for Daniel and Netsanet to know that for every day they are kept in the “rabbit hole”, their sacrifices for justice and human rights will sear the consciences of all who uphold truth, freedom and the rule of law. Their place as the foremost defenders of Ethiopian human rights is now secured. No doubt their jailers will attempt to demoralize them into believing that they have been forgotten by the rest of their compatriots, but that would be another lie. The truth is that their persecution, and the persecution of thousands of others like themselves, will now take center stage. Their captors should understand the plain truth: Injustice wearing the garb of justice is like the emperor with no clothes. Like the naked emperor, one can fake justice, but only for a time. In their continued incarceration after they had been ordered released by a “court”, everyone can see the naked injustice that continues to be inflicted on these two young men, and the thousands of others like themselves. It is also worth noting that that it is impossible to chain the spirit of two young lions in a “rabbit hole”.

Free All Political Prisoners in Ethiopia. Free Daniel and Netsanet!