Abdulrezak Hussen (PhD), For Addis Standard
Addis Abeba, July 04/2018 – It is a real story of innocents being criminalized, human rights obliterated, promises betrayed, justice ignored, peaceful protests brutally crushed and citizens blindly and indiscriminately beaten and more. It is a real story in a country where justice, fair-trial, freedom, human rights and dignity are revoked from its vocabulary. It is a real story of the oppressed being oppressed in broad daylight. It is the real story of ordeal of peace loving Muslim Ethiopians by merciless despots. It is a real story I myself witnessed.
The peaceful, civilized and persistent in-mosque sit-in protest of Ethiopian Muslims that started in late 2010 attracted the hearts and minds of almost everyone. To witness such a magnificent example of non-violent and peaceful struggle in a country with no record of such practice and, most of all, from the least literate segment of the society was unprecedented. But they made it and they made it with an outstanding commitment and remarkable flexibility in strategies.
In the face of a brutal authoritarian state that needs no reason to attack citizens, the Ethiopian Muslims rocked the nation from east to west-north to south with sensationally peaceful and exceptionally coordinated in-mosque protests. Despite the false accusations, heinous propaganda and brutal crackdown, we were unwavering in demonstrating to the nation and the world how people is power and how a neglected community can stand up when cornered and stifled.
The role of social media and mobile messaging were immense and the way it was used was another history we proudly tell for generations to come. Let alone for a person who is directly concerned with the issue, the peaceful wave of protests unconsciously caught observers’ attention and when there was a chance to witness these protest unfold, there will never be any hesitation and retreat but to bow down to its grace.
Arriving in Addis Abeba
In the weeks I arrived from abroad the government had already started threatening, torturing and imprisoning protestors. At the end of my first week, there was a crackdown on Awolia mosque at one misfortunes night. Many were imprisoned, abused and brutally beaten. Women, children, elders and youth were indiscriminately attacked. Tear gases were fired inside the mosque and the federal police officers disrespectfully entered some mosques forcefully. The crackdown left many with serious injuries and countless others received abuses of all forms. But even in such inhuman onslaught, protesters were peaceful.
Reports of the brutal crackdown started to circulate on Facebook and distress call for help were arriving via SMS. The capital city then erupted with Azan (call for prayer) and a huge mass from all corner of the city started marching towards Awolia. As usual, the police harshly and mercilessly dispersed them.
In retaliation, the angry Addis Abeba Muslims occupied the Grand Anwar mosque for the following two days. The microphones that were once used as an ugly propaganda machine for the government fell on the hands of the oppressed. The megaphones that deafened the people with their undeterred terror are now amplifying the voices of the persecuted. Members of the arbitration committee and prominent personalities of the community emotionally addressed the gathering. They preached peace, justice and the birthright to live like a human being. They demanded their constitutional right to be respected. They prayed peace for their motherland, love for its people, coexistence with their neighbor, patience against the brutal crackdown and a repeated call for justice.
Those days were filled with emotional moments. Everyone from all walks of life was present; all camped in the mosque and spent the next two days weeping and praying. The crippling morning cold, the blazing afternoon sun and the chilly summer rain never deterred the congregation. At the end of the two day uproar for justice, the committee gave an appointment to convene in the first day of Ramadan, Friday July 20, 2012 in the Grand Anwar mosque.
In the runner-up to the Black Saturday
The following week was full of terror. All what we hear was the government planning a full-scale crackdown. The government openly outlawed the arbitration committee and labeled their peaceful quest a “terrorist activity”. As Friday was approaching, tensions kept escalating. The movement leaders called off the Friday’s planned gathering and instructed the people to make a silent protest at the Grand mosque. Imagine how the scene would look like: the first day of Ramadan, (Jumaa) Friday and people tired of oppression and abuses all in the same place. But silent.
The Grand mosque and its surrounding were literally over flooded with tens of thousands of peace-loving oppressed Muslim Ethiopians. When the Imam concluded the prayer, the area instantly transformed into a spectacular open theater where the tens of thousands of protesters showed symbolic gesture of protest artistically with an extraordinary coordination. Nobody knows where the instruction was coming, but there was a smooth and astonishing show of unity in devotion and action. It was my first day to participate in the weekly Friday protest and it was by a mare chance a silent protest. I was too eager to see the iconic earth-rocking loud protest, but I had to wait for Saturday July 21 to witness and personally experience the life-changing events that unfolded on that black Saturday.
July 21 –the Black Saturday
Saturday morning, I was lying on my bed when I opened facebook to learn the latest developments. All Ethiopian Muslim facebook pages were reporting on the arrest of Ahmedin Jebel and Ahmed Mustefa accompanied by a call for protest at Grand Anwar Mosque after Zuhr (Noon) prayer. Given the level of anger, I predicted that the protest would not be a silent one. Those breathtaking videos of vocal protests that flutter oppressors’ heart and create rapture to an oppressed soul came before my eyes. Without any hesitation, I decided to attend and personally experience for the first time what I had been watching on social media for couple of months.
It was a sunny morning. My wife was washing clothes. I put on some of the new cloths I brought with me; brown trouser and thick winter black jacket. Before I left home, I asked my wife to see how I look and remember what I wore if in case I was not coming back. I was certainly kidding and she was also smiling. I might have been joking but it was exactly what happened to me. On my way to the taxi station, I met my elder sister and told her where I was going. That moment was my last exist from home for the next 20 days. The scars of the inhumane treatments, the beatings, derogatory insults and blatant denial of justice I personally witnessed together with close to a thousand innocents souls still lives with me.
The scar of the post-release trauma that snatched my sleep at night and triggered irresistible weeping still resonates with me. I went out to protest Ahmedin Jebel and Ahmed Mustefa’s kidnappings; and, like them, I ended up being at the mercy of the merciless. My stay was too short to count but too hard to forget. If 20 days incarceration continues to haunt one for more than five years, how long would Ahmedin Jebel and Ahmed Mustefa who suffered in jail for years have to wait before starting life afresh?
Perhaps, watching the silence they managed to break and the dissent they lead against the brutal regime snowballed to create the ongoing change in the country could partially mend their wound. But no doubt, their full recovery will wait the day Ethiopian Muslims start walking their head held high and enjoy their long-due full rights as citizens. It is in this context that I keep my hopes alive following news of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s meeting yesterday with members of the Muslim Arbitration Committee. I sincerely hope wee will be able to close this bitter chapter and move on. AS
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