By Tedla D. Tekle
Upon meeting my friend Zelalem for the first time, one could immediately describe him as a humble man. This opinion is widely held by many who have met him, including a member of a self-initiated volunteer group of youths, that regularly visit prisoners of concience.
Zelalem Workagegnehu, or Zola as we call him, is a respectful, caring and brilliant 32 year old man, born and raised in Addis Ababa. He has been an excellent student since primary school, and in Gondar University he finished his Bachelor of Arts in Business Management. In his spare time, Zola loved watching premier league football matches and he volunteered to support the needy. He is also entrepreneurial and has been aiding himself and his family by opening his own small start-up businesses, with many of them succeeding. For a few years, Zola co-blogged with me about Ethiopia and the geopolitical issues of the Horn of Africa.
This is what I know about Zola: he is not, and never has been a member of any political party. He does, however, have a deep political awareness. He always kept abreast with all political developments in Ethiopia, and had been active on social media mainly to exchange information and ideas. Fearing the consequences if he did use his real name, he used a pen name.
Zelalem was pursuing his masters degree in Public Administration at the Addis Ababa University, when he was arrested on the 8th of July 2014. On October 31st 2014 he was charged with having links, via social media, to Diaspora based opposition group Ginbot 7 regarding plots for regime change. He was also charged for other similar offences.
Zola has now spent over one year of imprisonment with publicly known opposition party officials such as Habtamu Ayalew, PR Head of the ex-UDJ; Daniel Shibeshi, Organisational Affairs Head of UDJ; Yeshiwas Assefa, Council Member of Semayawi (The Blue Party) and Abraha Desta, official of Arena Opposition Party in Mekele and Lecturer in Mekele University. All of them were charged under Zelalem’s file, but he never knew any of these declared opposition politicians before his arrest, and had no link whatsoever to them. Three more friends of Zola’s were arrested for applying to an internet security training program allegedly coming from a U.S. based Ethiopian journalist. The security training, however, never took place. For many people, politicians and those in the media, the fact that this unknown young man had been charged at such a high profile level came as a great surprise.
From the time that Zelalem began the aforementioned masters degree, our interaction started to dwindle. Thus, his arrest last year came as an enormous shock to me. All that comes to my mind is his courage in the face of this great struggle and, as the volunteer who visited him noted, his great humility.
Zola, my friend, my heart longs to see you free!