Speaking up, reaching out

first_imgSix years ago, Zelalem Kibret’s activism prompted him to visit prison; less than two years later, it landed him inside.A lawyer and then-professor of law at Ambo University in Ethiopia, Zelalem first visited a jailed politician in the infamous Kaliti Prison in 2012, hoping to raise awareness about people arrested for challenging the status quo. In 2014, Zelalem himself was behind bars for speaking up.That year, as part of a blogging collective called Zone 9, Zelalem and his colleagues, seven men and two women in all, had organized online campaigns urging the government to honor the rights promised in the country’s constitution. The group — two attorneys, a mathematician, an economist, an engineer, a journalist, and three information technology experts — met with jailed journalists and politicians, called for freedom of expression and an end to the torture of political detainees, and asked Ethiopians to share with them their hopes and dreams for their country. The effort angered government officials, Zelalem said. Kimmel steps up for Scholars at Risk When words spell danger 6 writers at risk explain how their work trumps threats Scholar at Risk, a Cuban journalist and poet who was once jailed, savors everyday life at Harvard Related “We are not asking for this law to be repealed, this law to be passed. Just respect the constitution. Fortunately, we have a very wonderful constitution, but no one cares about it,” said Zelalem on a recent afternoon at Harvard, where he has been a Scholar At Risk, supported by the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research.Zelalem knows firsthand Ethiopia’s record of human rights abuses. In 2012, he said, he was grabbed off an Ambo street by members of the National Intelligence Security Service, who locked him in a small room and interrogated and tortured him for hours. “Why was he criticizing the government?” and “Who was sponsoring his subversive activities?” he recalled his captors demanding. They repeatedly threw him to the floor, whipped him with a power cable, and beat his knees with the butt of a pistol, said Zelalem. When he was released, bruised and bloodied, he couldn’t walk for days.“It was so terrible.”But it wasn’t uncommon. Growing up in Ethiopia, Zelalem had long been cautioned about speaking out. “You have to be careful,” warned his parents, who had friends killed or exiled during the nation’s brutal communist dictatorship that lasted until 1991. As such, they were hesitant to express their political views.But certain influences planted an early seed of curiosity in their son. Ethiopia’s longstanding ties to the Soviet Union meant Zelalem’s boyhood home was populated with Russian literature translated into Amharic. Works by the likes of Nikolai Gogol and Leo Tolstoy filled the family bookshelves, along with a Marxist dictionary — “a world book from the communist point of view” — with descriptions of political, economic, and philosophical ideologies. His older brother, also a lawyer, fueled his interest in learning. But it was a contested election in 2005, the year he turned 18 and was first eligible to vote, that made Zelalem’s interest in politics really take hold.,While government officials had pledged their commitment to democratic reforms, members of the opposition party, as well as various human-rights organizations, complained of voter fraud during the election and contested the results. Security forces clashed with student protestors. Close to 200 demonstrators were killed, and hundreds more arrested.It was “eye-opening,” recalled Zelalem, a “milestone for me and many of my peers.”Watching friends and fellow students arrested for simply speaking up inspired him to get involved with the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a nongovernmental organization that documents rights abuses. Later, while working as a legal consultant and analyst, he read stories in Addis Neger, the Ethiopian newspaper that he said was known for its balanced reporting and well-sourced articles. The articles sparked a desire to put his own thoughts on the page, and so he began. When the government shut the paper down, Zelalem turned to the web, launching his personal blog in 2011.He realized then that “we all can talk now; we can all be journalists.”Together with friends he met online, he visited a journalist jailed in Kaliti Prison for speaking out. She explained that the prison had eight zones, and that prisoners referred to life beyond the bars as zone nine because of the shrinking civil rights and liberties throughout the country. The bitter inside joke gave the bloggers their name.After two years of having their web site repeatedly shut down and being harassed and followed by government officials, six of the nine were arrested and sent to jail. They were charged with “outrage against the constitution” and terrorism under the country’s expansive anti-terrorism law, he said. Zelalem was released just weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to the country, more than a year after his arrest. In 2015, when Zone 9 won a citizen journalism award, government officials seized Zelalem’s passport and refused to let him travel to Paris to accept the honor.He got it in time to participate in the Obama-sponsored African Leadership Initiative fellowship in 2016, studying at the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary. Last year he took part in a fellowship at New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. He arrived at Harvard this past fall.In Cambridge with his wife and young son, Zelalem has been studying the impact of “liberation technology” on new social movements in sub-Saharan Africa.“I am looking at how these new technologies are enabling [social movements] to push forward.”He is also exploring writing a book on how torture affects the lives of political prisoners. Next up is a fellowship at McGill University in Canada, where he will continue his research and writing and use his voice against injustice.“I am always hopeful,” he said. “I hope that things will be better eventually.” Comedian sets meeting with Bill Simmons to give program a boost Out of ‘the wolf’s mouth’last_img read more

Suffolk Dems’ Supermajority in Legislature Hinges on 1 Undecided Race

first_imgSign up for our COVID-19 newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest coronavirus news throughout New York The Democrats continue to hold the majority of the Suffolk County Legislature following Tuesday’s elections, but Republicans may have picked up one seat to give the GOP minority a say over borrowing.Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) had a one-vote lead over GOP challenger Steven Tricarico of Wading River in the sixth district, according to the unofficial election results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections—making the race too close to call until absentee and other paper ballots are counted.Democrats currently have a 12-6 supermajority that allows them to pass bonding without seeking support from the Republican minority, but if Tricarico unseats Anker, the majority needs at least one GOP lawmaker’s vote, putting a check on the power of newly re-elected Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s ability to borrow.“We are going to win this race,” Tricarico , the deputy superintendent of highways for the Town of Brookhaven, said at the Portugese American Center in Farmingville, where the Suffolk County Republican Committee held their election night party.“Mark my words: He will be sworn in in January,” added Suffolk County Republican Chair John Jay LaValle.But at the IBEW Local 25 union hall in Hauppauge, Suffolk County Democratic Chair Richard Schaffer told party faithful that he was confident Anker would win. Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) jokingly called her “Landslide Anker.”“Suffolk County Dems have retained control of the Suffolk County Legislature,” Schaffer told supporters.Winning the closely watched second district race for the seat vacated by term-limited Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) was Democrat Bridget Fleming, a Southampton town councilwoman who beat Amos Goodman, a financial consultant and political newcomer from Springs who is the first openly gay GOP candidate for county office on LI.Also closely watched was the race in which freshman Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), a Bellone ally and former educator, preemptively conceded the Democratic primary to her opponent, Giovanni Mata, who’s allied with former Democratic county lawmaker Rick Montano, who Martinez unseated two years ago. Martinez led Mata by 182 voters, but that race may see a recount, although Democrats retain the seat either way.Rounding out the most closely watched Suffolk legislative races was the 14th district, where freshman Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the Minority Leader of the legislature’s Republican caucus, won over Democratic challenger Timothy Sini of Babylon, the deputy Suffolk County executive for public safety.In the first district, freshman Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), the first farmer and the first Southold town resident elected to the county legislature, beat Republican challenger Remy Bell of Riverhead, a Suffolk County elections clerk and former small business owner.In the third district, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) won her sixth two-year term, which will be her last under the county’s term limits, over GOP challenger William Toranzo, a retired New York City police detective from Shirley.In the fourth district, Legis. Thomas Muratore (R-Lake Ronkonkoma), a former Suffolk police officer, won his fourth term over Democratic challenger Jonathan Rockfeld, an assistant election clerk for the Suffolk County Board of Elections from Centereach.In the fifth district, Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a former civic leader and legislative spokeswoman, won her third term by fending off Republican challenger Donna Cumella of Port Jefferson Station, a political newcomer who works in the Suffolk County Information Technology department.In the seventh district, Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who is the Majority Leader of the legislature’s Democratic caucus, won over Republican challenger Frank Tassone, a former assistant deputy county executive also from Patchogue.In the eighth district, freshman Legis. William Lindsay (D-Bohemia), son of the longest-serving presiding officer in the county’s history, beat GOP challenger Mary Beth Calamia, a certified social worker from Holbrook.In the 10th district, Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), a former small business owner, won his fourth term over Democratic challenger Joseph Hagelmann, the former chair of the Islip Town Democratic Committee from Ronkonkoma.In the 12th district, Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who won her husband’s former seat in a special election earlier this year, was re-elected to her first full two-year term, beating Democratic challenger Adam Halpern, an assistant Suffolk County attorney from Hauppauge.In the 13th district, freshman Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Northport), a retired Suffolk police detective, won his second term over Democratic challenger Richard Macellaro, a retired home health-care administrator is vice chair of the Smithtown Democratic Committee from Kings Park.In the 16th district, Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) won his sixth term—meaning he too is term-limited from running again—against Republican challenger Thomas McNally, a litigator also from Dix Hills.In the 17th district, Legis. Louis D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) also won his sixth and last term against GOP challenger Janet Heller-Smitell, a personal injury attorney from Huntington.In the 18th district, Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport) won his third term over Republican challenger Grant Lally, an attorney from Huntington.Running unopposed were Gregory, the presiding officer who represents the 15th district, and Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip), who represents the 11th district.,Alure cube,Alure cubelast_img read more