Letter to Senator Jesse Helms

December 20th, 1999

December 20, 1999
The Honorable Jesse Helms
United States Senate
Washington DC

Dear Senator Helms;

We address this appeal to you to solicit your kind intervention regarding the thousands of prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia, and in particular that of Dr. Taye Woldesemayat and Fitawrari Mekonnen Dori.

Dr Taye Woldesemayat is the president of Ethiopian Teachers Association. He has been in jail without trial since May 29, 1996. He was arrested at Addis Abeba Airport on his return from a two-month working visit to Europe. Dr Taye was in solitary confinement for several months with his hands and feet shackled 24 hours a day.

Dr Taye returned to Ethiopia from the U.S. in 1991 after graduating from a university. He was assistant professor of political science at Addis Abeba University until he and forty-two other professors who were considered critics by Meles Zenawi’s dictatorial regime were arbitrarily dismissed. In 1996, he was returning to Addis Abeba from Germany and other European countries after participating in conferences representing the Ethiopian Teachers Association. Representatives of the Dutch National Association of Teachers and the African Teachers Association were with him when he arrived at the Addis Abeba Airport, but they were unable to prevent his arrest.

Fitawrari Mekonnen Dori is a prominent leader of an opposition party named Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia. In February 1994, he came to the U.S. to participate in a reconciliation talks that was organized by the Carter Center in Atlanta. Soon after he returned to Ethiopia, he was arrested by TPLF security police on charges of crimes he allegedly committed during the previous regime. Currently, the seventy-year-old Fitawrari Mekonnen is gravely ill and deprived of proper medical treatment in jail.

Both Dr Taye and Fit. Mekonnen are strong advocates of peace and democratic rights in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia today, there are over 13,000 prisoners of conscience, most of whom are detained without trial for several years. Many of the prisoners are journalists, political party members, students, teachers, religious leaders and small farmers who opposed the regime’s nationalized land policy.

The Marxist regime of Tigrean Liberation Front (TPLF) led by Meles Zenawi, which came to power in 1991, so far defied all public appeals and calls by international human rights groups to release the prisoners of conscience.

Dear Senator Helms: We appeal to you to impress upon Meles Zenawi’s regime to free Dr. Taye Woldesemayat, Fitawrari Mekonnen Dori and all the other prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia.


Elias Kifle