THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY
COMMITTEE FOR ETHIOPIAN PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE (ISCEPC)
Dates: 3-8 March, 1997
Ato Abera was born in Kibre-Mengist, Adola, Sidamo where his father, Yemane-ab Gila, worked as a guard at a gold mine. His mother, Desta Yirdaw, died soon after he was born and he was nursed and cared for by "Emahoy" Getenesh, a nun who lived in a neighbouring house and had befriended the family. Under her care, he completed the local elementary shool at Adola and went to attend the Teferi Mekonnen high-school in Addis Ababa. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Addis Ababa University (1968) and a diploma in National Development (1970) and a Masters in Social Science (1971), both from Institute of Social Sciences at the Hague in the Netherlands. His wife, Alem-Tsehay Gebru, and their children now live in the United States.
A political activist from his undergraduate days, he continued to be a visible participant of the Revolution of 1974 and beyond, taking what he preached to the government posts he held since his return from abroad in 1972. His employment record includes Assistant Executive Director of a major development program, the Chilalo Agricultural Development Unit (CADU) between 1973-74, a governon of the district of Sidamo (briefly in 1975) where he forged close links with the peasants of the area, member of a three-man task force on Rural Development in the National Planning Commission and part-time lectureship at the Addis Ababa University. His open challenge and open criticism of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam led to his dismissal from his governor-ship of the district of Sidamo. His continued challenge to the regimes policy brought him to further conflict, making him a target of the infamous "Red Terror". This forced his withdrawal from his post at the National Planning Commission. Ten months as an underground activist, he fled Ethiopia to an exile in Somalia in 1978, where he was put under house arrest for six months and his wife gave birth to their second child. With the help of the UNHCR, he and his family received a transit to Italy and were eventually granted political asylum in the United States in May 1979.
From his student days at the University (then called the Haile Selassie I University), Abera Yemane-Ab had cultivated sincere interest and activism in the Ethiopian student movement, becoming one of the most prominent, respected and radical leaders on the Ethiopian political scene. Those who knew him from the early days consider him as an honest and trustworthy person, who has made the struggle for democracy, equity and unity of Ethiopia an integral part of his life. MEISON, the party he helped to organize and lead, worked with the military government in December 1975. After it broke off this alliance in August 1977, he and other leaders in the underground continued to work with peasants in Southern Ethiopia. His prominent leadership of the opposition to the Mengistu regime, continued during his sojourn as a refugee eventually leading to his election as the secretary general of MEISON. It was in that capacity that he led a delegation to Tigray and Eritrea. Its purpose, which failed, was to pursuade the TPLF and EPLF to work for the unity of all democratic groups in opposition.
His untiring leadership and work for unity then took him to the leadership of the Coalition of Ethiopian Democratic Forces (COEDF), which was setup in 1990 at a conference initiated by the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP). COEDF, the most multi-ethnic group in opposition to the military dictatorship in Ethiopia was marginalized by the intrigues of the TPLF from the American sponsored meeting of may 1991 in London. It was not allowed to participates either in the conference organized by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) in July 1991. However, it took the initiative to organize a "Peace and Reconciliation Conference" in March 1993 in consultation with the Southern Ethiopia Peoples Democratic Union (SEPDU), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the All Amhara Peoples Organization (AAPO) and others. EPRDF, the party in government, rejected the invitation to attend. Supported by funding from two French NGOs, the conference was held in Paris, France. It resolved to hold a peace and reconciliation conference in Addis Ababa, and that was convened in December 18-22 of the same year. Abera Yemane-Ab led a delegation of 4 to attend the Addis Ababa conference, but they were all picked up from the Bole airport on their arrival on December 16, 1993. Thus forewarned, 12 other COEDF delegates, cut short their trips and the conference then had to proceed without their attendance.
Abera and the three other delegates were accused of "inciting violence against government". Although his colleagues were released after two months, Abera was held until April 1994 when the High court dismissed the charges against him as insufficient. No sooner was this pronounced that the Special prosecutors Office` (SPO) re-arrested him and ordered his detention pending further investigation into "Red Terror" crimes he allegedly committed. The Ethiopian government took umbrage in the existence of an SPO and its embassies informed western governments and donors about the "Red Terror" and even "crimes against humanity" accusations. His personal pleas from prison challenging the undemocratic processes was ignored. Peasants in Sidamo sent a delegation to ask for his release, and others in the international community pleaded his case. Among them are COEDF and an Ethiopian support group in Sweden which published a booklet called "Victim of Peace". ALL PLEAS HAVE BEEN TO NO AVAIL and ABERA REMAINS IN PRISON.
ISCEPC wishes to express its appreciation to Alem-Tsehay Gebru for access to resources.