2018-02-08 / Front Page

Freedom Is Not Free Everywhere

Larry Young

Photo by Larry Young

Teferi Tafa, from Ethiopia, now a resident scholar at Norwich, stands in the surrender position required by the government of Ethiopia when confronted by police. Many are arrested for advocating freedom of speech or academic freedom in that country.Photo by Larry Young Teferi Tafa, from Ethiopia, now a resident scholar at Norwich, stands in the surrender position required by the government of Ethiopia when confronted by police. Many are arrested for advocating freedom of speech or academic freedom in that country.The authorities confiscated his cell phone six times and his lap top twice in order to shut him up and keep him from advocating free speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom.
They had him followed everywhere he went and began a series of intimidating, threatening calls when he continued to advocate for basic human freedom. They threw him in jail and charged him with terrorism against the Ethiopian government.
Teferi Tafa, now a scholar in residence at Norwich University in Northfield, had displeased the government of Ethiopia by advocating for basic human rights. The authorities could not stand for that. They jailed him to keep him quiet, charging him with terrorism. After two months of imprisonment, he was able to get out on bail.
While out on bail, he learned that his friend who had been jailed on similar charges and been found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He also learned that he was going to be arrested again and would be facing a probable 15 t0 20 years in prison.
Many of his friends had been arrested including prominent opposition party members upon their return from addressing the European Union Parliament in Brussels.
The government began arresting anyone who advocated free speech, a free press or academic freedom.
One prominent freedom advocate, Fayisa Lelisa, who won the Olympic Marathon in Rio de janeiro, when he learned of a warrant for his arrest, sought political asylum in the United States.
The movement for basic freedoms in Ethiopia has been a growing non-violent movement, according to Tafa, heavily influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy. In his book, “The Kingdom of God is Within You,” first published in 1894,Tolstoy advocates a non-violent pacifist approach to dissent against repression and government denial of rights, one that Tafa states was successfully followed by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandella.
Tafa’s novel, written in English and published in Ethiopia and the United States, “Asanti, An Unfolding Flower,” is heavily laden with political implications, advocacy of non-violent mass protest and, as Tafa said, “He hopes for the return of democracy in Ethiopia - The People must demand it.”
He added, “we must create a demanding society that will demand freedom.” He went on to state, ”a mass movement is the most difficult to be suppressed by the government.” The youth of Ethiopia have been organizing and may be the vanguard of a coming mass movement, a “demanding society” that believes will deliver freedom.
When he taught at the University of Addis Ababa, all lesson plans, lecture notes and syllabi had to be submitted to the government office installed on the campus for prior approval.
Now, teaching at Norwich, Tafa said that he has for the first time experienced true academic freedom. It’s exciting, he said, exhilarating and comforting, “the government is not looking over my shoulder and is not trying to censor what I teach.”
“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the academic freedom an encouragement that I have at Norwich after the past experiences of thought control in Ethiopia.,” he added.
“You really appreciate something when it is absent,” he said.
Tafa now lives in Northfield with his wife Metit Dugasa and an infant son. He is the author of two novels and numerous short stories. He teaches world literature at Norwich.

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