Events in Ethiopia have taken a disturbing turn following reports that a teacher in his late 20s burnt himself alive last week in protest against the ongoing brutal clampdown on dissent in the country. According to reports Yenesew Gebre made an impassioned plea at a protest gathering before dowsing himself in petrol and setting himself on fire.
Addressing fellow protestors he is reported to have said: ’I want to show to all that death is preferable than a life without justice and liberty and I call upon my fellow compatriots to fear nothing and rise up to wrench their freedom and rights from the hands of the local and national tyrants.’
It is understood that Gebre died from his injuries three days later at the Tercha city local hospital.
According to sources who spoke to the satellite TV station, ESAT, Yenesew had been campaigning against injustice at the hands of ruling party officials. It also appears that he had been fired from his teaching position because of his political views.
The event happened at a public meetng on November 11, aimed at resolving a series of local protests.
It was during the meeting that Yenesew Gebre reportedly spoke out against Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s regime. When security agents tried to stop him, Yeneneh walked out of the meeting hall and set himself alight infront of the other protesters gathered in the compound.
‘While fire was engulfing his whole body, he was calling for justice, freedom and democracy and urged people to rise up against the oppressors. He wanted martyrdom … he chose to sacrifice his life for the sake of liberty and justice,’ a local source who witnessed the shocking incident told ESAT.
According to close friends, Yenesew Gebre was widely respected and well known for raising serious issues and challenging authorities.
In a bid to quash any further protests in the area, the federal police and the security services have reportedly sealed off the town. The regime has cut telephone lines to prevent the news of Yenesew’s death from spreading across Ethiopia, according to ESAT.
Zelalem Tessema, spokesman from Mass Advocacy of Communities, Ethiopia (MACE) a diaspora group based in the UK, told the Bureau: ‘This unprecedented form of self-sacrifice has caused shock and anger amongst his compatriots both at home and abroad. Gebre’s action demonstrates the high level of despair prevailing amongst the public at large that is firmly under the brutal rule of Meles Zenawi.’
Yenesew Gebre’s death follows a recent investigation by the Bureau and BBC Newsnight into allegations of torture, repression and the political manipulation of foreign aid. The report was strongly denied by representatives of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.