Ethiopian expatriate aims to end violence in former homeland

Winnipeg Free Press – ONLINE EDITION

By: Trevor Suffield

17/06/2010 1:00 AM

Ali Saeed is organizing The Night of the Disappeared on June 20 at the West End Cultural Centre to raise awareness and funds to put an end to political killings and disappearances in Ethiopia.


TREVOR SUFFIELD Enlarge Image

Ali Saeed is organizing The Night of the Disappeared on June 20 at the West End Cultural Centre to raise awareness and funds to put an end to political killings and disappearances in Ethiopia.

Ali Saeed was jailed and tortured more than 25 years ago in Ethiopia during the dreaded Red Terror campaign for his efforts to promote freedom of speech.

Thousands of Ethiopians were imprisoned or tortured during the campaign because of their opposition to the government. Many of them vanished and were never seen again.

Saeed was one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape to Winnipeg in 1984 as a political refugee. However, he is still haunted by the memories of what was done to him and the people he loved.

Recently he was listening to the Voice of America Amharic Ethiopian-based radio program when he heard a ghost from his past.

“One of the officers who was a torturer was being interviewed about Ethiopia and he was denying saying there was no Red Terror,” said Saeed, who owns the 7X16 Convenience Store on Sargent Avenue.

“As soon as I heard the voice, not only me, but everybody was shaking and getting mad, and I couldn’t sleep the whole night.”

Since he arrived in Winnipeg, Saeed, 55, has been working to help as many of his fellow countrymen as possible to avoid the same fate that more than 65 of his friends and family suffered over the years.

Saeed, a Maples resident who was the subject of the recent documentary, estimates he has helped 104 fellow expatriates escape political persecution.

Saeed is organizing The Night of the Disappeared at the West End Cultural Centre on June 20. The goal of the event is to raise awareness and funds to stop politically-motivated killings and disappearances. Proceeds from the event will go to the Winnipeg chapter of Amnesty International and the Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners.

Saeed says the event will pay tribute to former political prisoners Gebre-Igzeabher, Tesfaye Tadesse, Aberssh Berta, Kebede Tesfaye, Lemma Hailu and Tsegaye Gebremedhin. It will also acknowledge the suffering of political prisoners from around the globe.

Getachew Beyene, an Ethiopian political refugee who recently moved to the West End, has firsthand knowledge of the suffering many of his fellow countrymen endured. The former university student was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for demonstrating against the government, and lost most of his teeth because of the torture.

Beyene said that Saeed is well known in Winnipeg’s Ethiopian community and in Africa for his willingness to help others.

“I’ve heard that he was struggling for our freedom and solidarity, and when I came here I had people show me who he is,” Beyene said.

Saeed, who estimates there are approximately 5,000 Ethiopians currently living in Winnipeg, hopes that people are inspired to take action by what they see and hear at the fundraiser.

“If I quit struggling it will kill me because I am breaking the promise to the comrades who went before me and died that we would fight until our people become free,” Saeed says.

“But if I keep struggling until everyone is free and there is justice and freedom in Ethiopia, then I will be alive.”

The Night of the Disappeared will take place June 20 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the West End Cultural Centre at 586 Ellice Ave.

Tickets are $20, or $12 for low-income students, and include entertainment and a traditional Ethiopian vegetarian dinner and are available at Into the Music, Music Trader, McNally Robinson Booksellers and the 7X16 Convenience Store.

For more information on Ethiopian political disappearances, visit www.socepp.de.

trevor.suffield@canstarnews.com

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