Former Professor at Norfolk State University Vows to Return to Ethiopia to Continue the Struggle to Promote Democracy

In 2005 Professor Yacob Hailemariam gave up his faculty position at Norfolk State University to return to his native Ethiopia to run for parliament. He was elected along with a host of other reform politicians. But Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stripped the reform politicians of power in the new government. Supporters of the reform movement took to the streets in protest. More than 200 people were killed in riots that followed.

Hailemariam and 37 of his colleagues subsequently were arrested and charged with treason and genocide. This past summer Hailemariam was convicted of treason in an Ethiopian court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, in a surprise, Hailemariam and his codefendants were pardoned and set free.

Professor Hailemariam returned home to his family in Virginia. But now he has vowed to return to Ethiopia before the end of the year in an effort to promote freer democracy prior to nationwide elections scheduled for 2010.

“There is a chance we could go back to prison,” Hailemariam told the Virginian-Pilot. “But what are you going to do? We have made promises to the people, and we can’t renege on those promises.”