“Eskinder is one of the most virtuous people I know in my country,” she says. “He really believes in the good in all of us. It’s vivid in his personal life and in his activism. The love he has for his country, his dedication to seeing people living a dignified life – it’s really huge.
“He didn’t start his activism with just criticizing the government. He always gave them the benefit of the doubt. He was relentlessly committed to expressing his views, his ideas.”
That commitment triggered a campaign of harassment, including threats, a ban on the newspaper Eskinder ran with Serkalem, and repeated imprisonment. In 2005, when all three were jailed, Eskinder was thrown into solitary confinement for months on end. “That didn’t make him a hateful person,” observes Birtukan. “Still, he sustained his optimism and strong belief in his cause.”
With its network of supporters worldwide, Amnesty’s potential to secure Eskinder’s freedom is significant, notes Birtukan. “The support we get as political prisoners is indispensible.”
But, she adds, “We shouldn’t forget the people back home – they would love to support us – but the suppression is huge. People can’t express that kind of protest against our imprisonment in an organized way.” This makes Amnesty International’s support all the more crucial, she says.
It also lends legitimacy to the struggle. “Some people say fighting for rights and democracy in Africa is futile,” explains Birtukan. “Some people even try to focus on the economic performance of a country. But we mustn’t trade off our human rights for monetary benefit.
“The things you are working on – they validate and reassert those aspirations and those rights we have as human beings as inviolable, no matter what. It has huge significance in terms of the moral support you generate for activists like Eskinder and myself.”
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