Exiled journalists determined for change

By Amel Ariqi, 11 June 2009 — Daniel Gezahegn, and Tamerat Serbessa, the two Ethiopian exiled journalists in Yemen, have entered a new stage in their struggle. This time they plan to publish a monthly Amharic newspaper targeting the Ethiopian community in Yemen.

Gezahegn, was the editor of Amharic newspaper, Moged, which was known for its hardline stand against the government and conducted investigations during the 2005 Ethiopian election. After the election, the ruling party, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) placed their names and photographs on a wanted list, along with over 20 other Ethiopian journalists accused of criticizing the regime.daniel_freind_yemen.gif

Like many journalists, Gezahegn and his friend were forced to flee their homeland to escape threats of violence, death, imprisonment or harassment. They left their families and children behind, and sought political asylum in Yemen in 2005.

They survived the hazardous voyage. They crossed the Gulf of Aden with smugglers, lived in extreme poverty, and roamed the streets of Aden seeking, and many times begging, for food and shelter. They used sign language because they couldn’t speak Arabic. It was18 months before they were relocated by the UNHCR in Sana’a.

Their struggles cemented their determination to demand better life, not just for themselves, but for all of the African refugees in Yemen who face poverty, malnutrition and discrimination.

report1_21.jpgThe pair also frequently participated in peaceful protests against the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Sana’a, demanding more protection, and that the office facilitate their resettlement.

Realizing the importance of media to convey their message, Gezahegn gave interviews to local English media including the Yemen Times, Addis Dimts radio and Voice of America to inform the world of the plight of exiled Ethiopian journalists and refugees in Yemen.

Gezahegn said he was harassed by Yemeni security and UNHCR officials, and even by the Ethiopian Embassy security agents while working as an activist.

And although both journalists suffer from health problems- Serbessa is partially paralyzed and Gezahegn is diabetic- they continue to rebel against authority.

“I planned to publish our newspaper to bridge the information education gap for the high number of Ethiopian refugees who speak Amharic language,” said Gezahegn, pointing out that 99 percent of the available media in Yemen is in Arabic the other 2 percent is in English.

Last April, Gezahegn and Serbessa, with the help of exiled Ethiopian journalists in Yemen, the US, and Europe launched GURAMAILE, the first ever Ethiopian community newspaper in Yemen.

GURAMAILE, which is a synonym for the Yemeni word “naqsh,” means “the making of hand decoration.” Guramaile is also suggest that things are special by their different colors, like diverse peoples living together, Gezahegn explained.

The eight-page layout of the first issue was designed with the Photoshop program. According to Gezahegn, the newspaper is going to report on politics, arts, sports and other topics of interest to Ethiopian refugees in Yemen. Additionally, the newspaper plans to translate relevant UNHCR publications.

Gezahegn and his colleagues also plan to publish some pages in English to broaden their audience. “We are the voice of the voiceless people,” he said.

“Our goal is first of all practicing the freedom of expression based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19. Our goal is to fight for the refugees and the right to asylum in Yemen, where refugees are experiencing discrimination,” said Gezahegn.

He also criticized the UNHCR office in Yemen, saying that the office does nothing help refugees. “We want to stop the xenophobic sentiment,” he added.

Gezahegn has appealed to the UNHCR for help obtaining a government license to publish a newspaper. On May 6, 2009 he wrote:

“Dear/Sir Madame: I demand UNHCR Yemen Office issue me a supporting letter to get a work permit for me to work with my profession as a journalist.

I demand based on the convention of 1951 Article 17, 22, 14 and based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19.

“I suffered for the last three years without any work because of not getting a durable solution from the office. The response for my solution have been a threat to cancel my mandate and warning by the protection officer. I am not afraid of the threats as I am not a terrorist, but just an innocent refugee.

“During my last years experience, I haven’t used the list of articles which are listed on my mandate ID, such as Article 17 and 22. But now I demand my rights from the article 14, 1951 convention to work my artistic work to publish a news paper with my national language.”

After the launch of GURAMAILE , the reaction of UNHCR was painful, according to Gezahegn. The office threatened to canceled his refugee mandate.

Working without license, and the threats from the UNHCR were not the only menaces they faced.

According to Gezahegn, GURAMAILE distributor Seid Mudesier has been harassed TPLF government supporters in Sanaa. Mudesier is former Ethiopian Free Press vendor in Merkato’s Merab hotel area, who was also arrested in Dedessa, and forced to leave Ethiopia for his safety.

The newspaper has also created a huge debate among Ethiopian community in Yemen, “In our first publication, pro-Ethiopian government Protestant and the Orthodox groups threatened us by telephone,” said Gezahegn.

“On the other hand, some people tried to attack us because of our first issue had an interview with [an official from] an organization working to reveal and improve the lives of domestic African workers. He was explaining about the modern slavery situation,” said Gezahegn, who added that modern slavery is a highly contentious issue.

“Though all these difficulties we are determining to continue publishing the newspaper. We are now planning to produce a documentary showing the Ethiopian refugees’ daily life, revealing their tragedy since they began their dangerous journey with smugglers, and then their plight and suffering to get their rights as refugees in Yemen,” Gezahegn said.

The first issue of GURAMAILE was printed in April, circulating 1,000 copies Sana’a. [Yemen Times]

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