Former political prisoner says thanks at talk in Beach

By DAVE FORSTER, The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH
Yacob Hailemariam is thankful he is no longer a political prisoner, but he is far from satisfied.
Hailemariam, 63, spoke Wednesday night at an interfaith Thanksgiving service of about 100 people at Congregation Beth Chaverim and thanked the community for its support for him while he was behind bars.
The former Norfolk State University professor was freed in July after 21 months of imprisonment in Ethiopia after he advocated for democratic change and won a parliamentary seat there in 2005.
Hailemariam wants to return to his homeland and continue the push for democratic reforms.
"Ethiopia hasn't moved an inch" toward democracy and human rights, he said. "The fight has to go on."
He has said that the support he received from Norfolk State and the Hampton Roads community boosted his morale while he was in prison.
"I really don't deserve such an outpouring of love," he said. "It was really humbling what Hampton Roads did for me."
Hailemariam and about three dozen other opposition leaders were convicted earlier this year of crimes against the government.
The human-rights group Amnesty International called the defendants "prisoners of conscience." They were sentenced in July to life in prison, but the Ethiopian government pardoned them days later and released them.
Hailemariam taught business law for nearly 20 years at Norfolk State but retired to return to Ethiopia when the country announced it would hold democratic elections in 2005.

Dave Forster, (757) 222-5563, dave.forster@pilotonline.com

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