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Open letter to the President of Switzerland

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ethio airlines
The Swiss Confederation
C/O Embassy of Switzerland
2900 Cathedral Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
February 24, 2014

Dear President Didier Burkhalter,
Re: Ethiopian Co-Pilot Hailemedhin Aberra Tegegn
It is to be recalled that on Monday, February 17th 2014, a Boeing 767 Ethiopian Airlines commercial airliner, Flight ET702, which was en route to Rome, was diverted to Geneva, where it safely landed at 6:02 am (0502 GMT). As it has been widely reported, the airliner was diverted from its official route by the Ethiopian co-pilot, Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, who made a request for political asylum in Switzerland while hovering over Geneva.
Those of us who have gathered here today at the Swiss Embassy in Washington D.C. as well us so many others who have been unable to come due to work and other commitments, are eager to humbly appeal on behalf of our compatriot Hailemedhin Aberra Tegegn, who appears to have great faith in the fairness, judiciousness and hospitality of the people and government of Switzerland. Having first-hand experience of facing persecution in Ethiopia, we have little doubt that Mr. Tegegn was desperate not only to seek political asylum but also feel that he was evidently eager to attract global attention to the predicament and suffering of his fellow citizens in Ethiopia who are routinely being killed, jailed and tortured by the TPLF-led regime.
We would, therefore, like the government of Switzerland to consider the following facts, inter alia, in dealing with Mr. Tegegn’s case, as he clearly wanted to attract global attention to the plight and suffering of Ethiopians under the tyrannical minority regime in Ethiopia, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF/EPRDF).
1. Ethiopia under the TPLF is one of the most repressive states in the world. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Genocide Watch, UN Committee against Torture, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament, the United Nations Human Rights Council, among others, have repeatedly and consistently, though in vain, demanded the Ethiopian government to desist from committing crimes against humanity, gross human rights violations, extra judicial killings, mass displacement, torture and other forms of degrading mistreatment against innocent citizens.
2. The government of Ethiopia abuses its own anti-terrorism proclamation to harshly and vengefully punish dissidents, journalists, religious leaders and activists. Hundreds of dissidents, Muslim rights defenders, civil rights leaders, activists and journalists have been charged with or convicted of terrorism offences in a bid to completely suppress dissident voices. So many of our compatriots are languishing in jails just for demanding freedom and respect for their basic rights.
3. Among those convicted of terrorism offences under the Draconian law, are three internationally acclaimed award-winning journalists who are languishing in hellish jails. Eskinder Nega, Woubishet Taye and Reeyot Alemu, who is gravely ill but denied medical assistance, were convicted of trumped-up terrorism charges and are currently serving lengthy sentences. In Ethiopia, there is no freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of religion or freedom of movement under the current regime despite the fact that they were proclaimed in the ostensible Ethiopian constitution, which is violated willfully by its own authors.
4. The Ethiopian Airlines, where Mr. Tegegn was in employment, is widely known to have been undermined and crippled by unbridled corruption, nepotism and ethnic discrimination. There are reports that indicate that Mr. Tegegn was a victim of discrimination due to his unwillingness to join the ruling party and ethnic background, a requirement that has been pervasively and forcefully implemented in the public sector.
5. We are confident that the Swiss government has extensive information on the widespread human rights violations in Ethiopia, a reality which has forced so many Ethiopians to take extreme measures to leave the country including crossing perilous terrains, deserts and treacherous waters to in search of safe heavens. It should be remembered that so many of our compatriots have lost their lives in deserts, seas and oceans. This is the Ethiopia that Mr. Tegegn wanted to flee with a sense of urgency and desperation. By doing so, he has made a huge political statement and a call for attention to our suffering at a global scale.
While we acknowledge the unusual nature of Mr. Tegegn’s action and the inconvenience it created to the passengers, the airport as well as the country, it was clear that Mr. Tegegn had no intention of harming anyone. We are very grateful that he took utmost care so that nobody would be in harm’s way.
We appeal to the government of Switzerland to treat his asylum application expeditiously and the legal matters with sympathy, compassion, leniency and humanity because his fear of persecution is clear and present like so many Ethiopians face on a daily basis. We also call upon the government of Switzerland to reject any extradition bid on the part of the criminal TPLF government that tortures, kills and treats Ethiopian citizens in degrading and inhuman manners.
We call upon the people and government of Switzerland to grant political asylum and afford him a safe haven that he so desperately pleaded in your country, which is respected and known not only for its principle of neutrality but also for being an important seat for so many international organizations and UN agencies.
We look forward to a hearing positive outcome in Mr. Tegegn’s asylum case and legal matters.
With utmost regards,
Washington DC Ethiopian Joint Task Force.
Contact Person: Abebe Gellaw, Tel: +1 (650) 924-2540, Email: [email protected]
Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
UN Committee against Torture
United Nations Human Rights Council
Genocide Watch
Refugees International
European Parliament
Various human rights and media organizations