Open letter to the President of Switzerland

The Swiss Confederation

C/O Embassy of Switzerland
2900 Cathedral Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008 

February 24, 2014

Dear President Didier Burkhalter,

Re: Ethiopian Co-Pilot Hailemedhin Aberra Tegegn

It is to be recalled that on Monday, February 17th 2014, a Boeing 767 Ethiopian Airlines commercial airliner, Flight ET702, which was en route to Rome, was diverted to Geneva, where it safely landed at 6:02 am (0502 GMT). As it has been widely reported, the airliner was diverted from its official route by the Ethiopian co-pilot, Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, who made a request for political asylum in Switzerland while hovering over Geneva.

Those of us who have gathered here today at the Swiss Embassy in Washington D.C. as well us so many others who have been unable to come due to work and other commitments, are eager to humbly appeal on behalf of our compatriot Hailemedhin Aberra Tegegn, who appears to have great faith in the fairness, judiciousness and hospitality of the people and government of Switzerland. Having first-hand experience of facing persecution in Ethiopia, we have little doubt that Mr. Tegegn was desperate not only to seek political asylum but also feel that he was evidently eager to attract global attention to the predicament and suffering of his fellow citizens in Ethiopia who are routinely being killed, jailed and tortured by the TPLF-led regime.

We would, therefore, like the government of Switzerland to consider the following facts, inter alia, in dealing with Mr. Tegegn’s case, as he clearly wanted to attract global attention to the plight and suffering of Ethiopians under the tyrannical minority regime in Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF/EPRDF).

  1. Ethiopia under the TPLF is one of the most repressive states in the world. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch, UN Committee against Torture, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament, the United Nations Human Rights Council, among others, have repeatedly and consistently, though in vain, demanded the Ethiopian government to desist from committing crimes against humanity, gross human rights violations, extra judicial killings, mass displacement, torture and other forms of degrading mistreatment against innocent citizens.
  2. The government of Ethiopia abuses its own anti-terrorism proclamation to harshly and vengefully punish dissidents, journalists, religious leaders and activists. Hundreds of dissidents, Muslim rights defenders, civil rights leaders, activists and journalists have been charged with or convicted of terrorism offences in a bid to completely suppress dissident voices. So many of our compatriots are languishing in jails just for demanding freedom and respect for their basic rights.
  3. Among those convicted of terrorism offences under the Draconian law, are three internationally acclaimed award-winning journalists who are languishing in hellish jails. Eskinder Nega, Woubishet Taye and Reeyot Alemu, who is gravely ill but denied medical assistance, were convicted of trumped-up terrorism charges and are currently serving lengthy sentences. In Ethiopia, there is no freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion or freedom of movement under the current regime despite the fact that they were proclaimed in the ostensible Ethiopian constitution, which is violated willfully by its own authors.
  4. The Ethiopian Airlines, where Mr. Tegegn was in employment, is widely known to have been undermined and crippled by unbridled corruption, nepotism and ethnic discrimination. There are reports that indicate that Mr. Tegegn was a victim of discrimination due to his unwillingness to join the ruling party and ethnic background, a requirement that has been pervasively and forcefully implemented in the public sector.
  5. We are confident that the Swiss government has extensive information on the widespread human rights violations in Ethiopia, a reality which has forced so many Ethiopians to take extreme measures to leave the country including crossing perilous terrains, deserts and treacherous waters to in search of safe heavens. It should be remembered that so many of our compatriots have lost their lives in deserts, seas and oceans. This is the Ethiopia that Mr. Tegegn wanted to flee with a sense of urgency and desperation. By doing so, he has made a huge political statement and a call for attention to our suffering at a global scale.

While we acknowledge the unusual nature of Mr. Tegegn’s action and the inconvenience it created to the passengers, the airport as well as the country, it was clear that Mr. Tegegn had no intention of harming anyone. We are very grateful that he took utmost care so that nobody would be in harm’s way.

We appeal to the government of Switzerland to treat his asylum application expeditiously and the legal matters with sympathy, compassion, leniency and humanity because his fear of persecution is clear and present like so many Ethiopians face on a daily basis. We also call upon the government of Switzerland to reject any extradition bid on the part of the criminal TPLF government that tortures, kills and treats Ethiopian citizens in degrading and inhuman manners.

We call upon the people and government of Switzerland to grant political asylum and afford him a safe haven that he so desperately pleaded in your country, which is respected and known not only for its principle of neutrality but also for being an important seat for so many international organizations and UN agencies.

We look forward to a hearing positive outcome in Mr. Tegegn’s asylum case and legal matters.

With utmost regards,

Washington DC Ethiopian Joint Task Force.

Contact Person: Abebe Gellaw, Tel: +1 (650) 924-2540, Email:


Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

UN Committee against Torture

United Nations Human Rights Council

Genocide Watch

Refugees International


European Parliament

Various human rights and media organizations





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Posted by on February 24, 2014. Filed under NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Open letter to the President of Switzerland

  1. Sam

    February 24, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    Why the need to write an open letter to the president of Switzerland even before the trial starts? In a country where a rule of law is respected even a president would not dare to interfere in the legal process. The decision whether to prosecute or not rests on the attorney general. If Hailemedhin is found guilty, the above five points raised might in some form could be used by a savvy attorney in summation or something. Other than that a wish to make the Ethiopian government in trial might pump up the moral of some ill-informed Ethiopians, but has no legal basis. This is very basic. Anyone who resides in North America and has the ability to follow news should know this. One should not be a genius to figure this out. We Ethiopians seem very much believe– like the late prime minister Meles who packed up political prisoners to prison whenever he wanted to, and released them when he felt he has already accomplished what he intended to do– the whole world operates that way. No, no. Even I am not sure the president has the power to do that. Even if he does such a letter should be written by those who know the law of that country. Say an Ethiopian lawyer living in that country. The five points mentioned are political in nature. Courts on the other hand deal with the law. Ethiopians who care about the fate of Hailemehdin should invest time and money to find Ethiopian lawyers who might help his court appointed lawyers. That is a practical help. This writing of an essay whenever we found something new to talk to should not be the diaspora’s culture. I have seen the likes of such emotional letters so many times, I have not seen a single one that produced result. It is a feel good thing. A young man future is on the line. The amateurs should give chance for the professionals.