Police break up teachers meeting, activists arrested

By Jason Travis
ADDIS ABABA - I attended the opening session of the General Assembly of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA) last Wednesday. The organisation has been under a state of siege in the last few years.
Last year around 40 000 people were arrested in protests over the election which is widely believed to have been rigged. School students played a crucial role in protests and strikes and were targeted along with teachers with at least 40 teachers known to have been arrested (the true figure being probably much higher), some dying in custody, some dying shortly after release, others not heard of again by their families.
The current chairperson of the Addis Ababa branch of the ETA, Kassahun Kebede is still imprisoned. Before the meeting I visited and filmed the offices of the ETA which were ransacked last November with all equipment, including computers, seized and many rooms sealed off. I had visited the general secretary Gemoraw Kassa the previous week who had invited me to give a speech on the history of British trade unions related to the Paris Commune.
The meeting itself, with some 200 delegates, started with Gemoraw giving a speech about how it was necessary to keep up the struggle for trade union rights and democracy and continue to appeal for international solidarity. The deputy general secretary of Education International Janice Eastman who in general terms applauded the courage and determination of ETA members to continue organising and meeting even in the face of police repression. Then Rewayne Mbaye from the International Labour Organisation gave a long detailed speech about various ILO conventions, in particular 87 and 98, which guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The meeting became more animated after ordinary member contributions which all gave details of repression in local areas and asked how the ETA could function in the face of naked repression. I gave one speech from the floor.
At lunch time however, as if in dramatic confirmation of delegates’ concerns, armed police and soldiers surrounded the building, refused to allow delegates into the afternoon session and started to disperse the crowd. After capturing some of this on film I left the meeting with some teachers in a minibus belonging to the union. However, about an hour later the minibus was forced to a halt by three unmarked cars and three men entered the bus by force and grabbed my bag. In the ensuing struggle they identified themselves as ‘police’ and flashed a non-descript ID card before pinning me down and forcibly taking my bag with the camera and various documents.
The next day the minibus was seized and several ETA members and staff, including the minibus driver, arrested.
The last couple of days in Addis I spent mainly talking to people in hiding, finding and communicating with various members of student and other opposition groups.
Jason Travis
Sep 11, 2006 (Teacher and Trade Union Activist Member of Bolton NUT- Manchester)

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