“We Cannot Trample Upon the Humanity of Others Without Devaluing Our Own”

Atnaf Berahane, Mahlet Fantahun, Zelalem Kiberet, Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela.

The six imprisoned bloggers: Atnaf Berahane, Mahlet Fantahun, Zelalem Kiberet, Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela.

Last April, nine bloggers and journalists were arrested in Ethiopia. Several of these men and women had worked with Zone9, a collective blog that covered social and political issues in Ethiopia and promoted human rights and government accountability. And four of them were Global Voices authors. In July, they were charged under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. They have been behind bars ever since, their trial postponed time and again.

The Global Voices community, and the Sub-Saharan Africa team in particular, has worked hard over the past twelve months to call attention to their case and celebrate their contributions to online discourse. In the coming weeks, we hope to highlight each individual with a special piece of writing, art, poetry, or video. In this initial post, Nigerian author and poet Nwachukwu Egbunike speaks to our cause with a mix of prose and poetry.

We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb – “Onye ji onye n'ani, ji onwe ya” – “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down”

Chinua Achebe

These nine Ethiopians were unjustly hooded into jail by those who have been entrusted with the common good. We wish to recount their stories in the weeks to come.

What's in a name? The very essence of one's humanity. The African worldview holds that names can't be erased. But a tyrannical state wishes to do just that.

The Zone9 bloggers’ crime was that they dared to live out “Ubuntu”. They promoted their community above individualistic concerns. Their work was to push and tear down the large barriers of the proverbial “Zone Nine” prison of Ethiopia. Freedom is on trial, free speech is dead. The silence of fear is alive.

Using the Internet, these men and women expanded the zone of freedom. But as a reward, they were inflicted with trumped-up terrorism charges. They are currently in jail.

Global Voices Advocacy wishes to keep these names alive and tell their tale of courage for all to know. We wish to prevent a reductionist approach of counting them merely as numbers or as martyrs. They have names, stories, personalities, quirks, flaws.

Names, stories
Zoned into Gaul
Nine not none
Gagged not mute
Suppressed not erased.

Their names and stories will be recounted here. By this, we seek never to forget and to keep their voices loud and strong, until they are free again.


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