The story of Dr Taye Woldesemayat
Dr Taye Woldesemayat is the former President of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association. The ETA is an independent trade union that was established in 1951.
It is the second largest trade union in Ethiopia and is affiliated to Education International which is the umbrella organization of trade unions representing teachers. Dr. Taye has a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
In 1989, Dr Taye took a post as Assistant Professor in Political Science and International Relations at Addis Ababa University. In 1992, the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) elected Dr. Taye as its President. Along with his newly elected trade-unionists, he set out to protect the interests of teachers throughout Ethiopia. And in 1993, the EPRDF regime in Ethiopia dismissed 42 academics from Addis Ababa University including Dr. Taye and the entire ETA executive leadership.
Beginning 1993, the Ethiopian regime has made attempts to control or frustrate the activities of the ETA, such as freezing its bank accounts and pension fund, shutting down offices, searching the headquarters illegally, dismissing some ETA members from their teaching positions and imprisoning others. The regime also set up a rival teachers’ organization of the same name. As leader of ETA, Dr Taye spoke critically against the government’s education policy and sought better conditions for teachers. Dr Taye was arrested on 29 May 1996 at Addis Ababa Airport on his return from a visit to Europe. He was unlawfully detained for the subsequent 3 months and in August 1996 he was charged with armed conspiracy.
According to Amnesty International, Dr Taye endured solitary confinement for four months and being shackled in handcuffs 24 hours a day for two years. He received constant death threats and harassment from prison guards. He also spent time in a special exclusion or darkness cell where he was not allowed to mix with other prisoners and the cell was entirely devoid of natural light. In mid-1998 the conditions of Dr Taye’s detention worsened after he made complaints about the prison conditions, death threats and harassment from prison guards and he was held in hand chains.
After 22 months of delays, many adjournments and the withdrawal of some of the charges, Dr. Taye was found guilty on 3 June 1999 of conspiracy to overthrow the state in a trial adjudged unfair and politically motivated by Amnesty International and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
After relentless campaign by the people of Ethiopia, teachers' unions around the world and Amnesty International, Dr. Taye was released on 14 May 2002 having spent six years in EPRDF's notorious jails. Ethiopia continues to be a country where social justice and human rights are violated at an alarming rate. Yet Dr Taye’s fearless campaigns to bring about social justice in Ethiopia and to stop violations of human rights have contributed to the efforts to attract international condemnation of such violations.