TPLF vainly copies China’s ways — Censorship & planting pseudonymous articles in social media —hoping to trump an Ethiopia ‘agenda’ to save its increasingly slipping power (Part I)

22 Jul

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Of late, constantly on my mind has been the 31-year old Yonatan Tesfaye. He was once the spokesperson for the opposition Blue Party. Before his imprisonment, I had felt him coming across in his media appearances — as did many I have spoken to — as a promising young man, with future prospects written all over him.

Sadly, he has now been cut short like the disturbingly countless Ethiopians that have been and are being consigned to victimhood — comprising the burgeoning category of: all the persecuted, Ethiopian refugees and exiles scattered all over the world, or masses of political prisoners at home, the totally disabled under torture, or those silenced for good by the orders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — the cruelest human rights violator ever and a killing machine in Ethiopia.

Toward the end of last May, he received six-year-and-three-month-prison-term on the trumped up TPLF’s infamous terrorism charge. Therefore, trusting what the law has sentenced him to and in the interest of our nation, I only hope this misfortune of his would be a mere accident — just a stumble.

Some may find comfort in seeing this as a call for sacrifice, if you will. The truth is that this is the essence and sad state of our nation’s politics, the greed of the few and the hunger for power by genuine and misguided ethnic forces, lurking against the backdrop of the ignorance of the many derailing our all-round development into a healthier society.

Unfortunately, there are also those that explain it though Yonatan’s misplaced faith in TPLF’s ‘constitutional protection’ of Ethiopians and the written guarantees thereon. True to form, however, as in the innumerable cases of its Ethiopian victims, so tragically have the TPLF regime’s guarantees failed this young man the moment he expressed on Facebook his fierce criticism of the perpetual violation of the human rights of the Ethiopian people.

By this cruel action, we can assume Yonatan has been withdrawn only for the coming over six years from his loved ones and the society he loves — i.e., if only the law prevails. We take comfort in the fact that in the meantime the TPLF has done further irreparable harm to itself by enveloping the entire nation with fear and muzzling our people.

Fortunately, by the logic of interconnectedness, the Front’s credibility and its politics too have become damaged goods in the eyes of our people. TPLF and its vision, if any, have been reduced into a fake product, not surprisingly in a nation seized by arms already in 1991, which thus far has been under occupation by modern arms and intelligence.

The politics of mushrooming Facebook accounts

Following Yonatan’s imprisonment or sentencing, I counted about a hundred “Yonatan Tesfaye” Facebook accounts, appearing on the social media landscape. They are expressions of dejection or fury by a limited number of citizens.

The accountholders are young university students, both male and female; some have indicated they are from the outside, as jobless people; and still others from within, as small business owners.

After careful scrutiny, without any outside guide, one is likely to realise that this is indication of the widening Ethiopian rejection of the TPLF regime.

What is splendid about these Yonatan Facebook sympathisers is that their move has prevailed at a time when the entire country has been in a lockdown under the martial law, which has allowed more violation of human rights by the TPLF security forces and their robbery of mobile phones and some precious stuff belonging to people whose homes or pockets are searched.

For many Ethiopians, irrespective of the damages the regime has been doing against citizens, this has affirmed that people are not deterred at all from identifying themselves with a genuine cause for justice — an unmistakeable national hunger for freedom, equality and democracy, notwithstanding the enormous risks to them as individuals.

This is jewel for future historians, who may dub it the miracle of human solidarity with a just cause, especially at a terrifying time, in defence of the rights of the Ethiopian people! It has happened in a country where the regime has been responsible for most political crimes such as its gruesome violation of the fundamental human rights of the people, its monstrous corruption, the nepotism and cruelty it has spawned within society.

As can be seen from Yonatan’s twitter message, reproduced below, his reaction in court has also been considered on the social media a serious indictment against the regime. He defiantly defended his actions, stating: “I have not committed any crime, all I have done was exercising my right…!”

My instant reaction of July 11 to this in a twitter message, below, was possibly more to reassure myself than him, when I explained it was not the law that had difficulties with his exercise of his rights, but the TPLF, its fear and profound intolerance of citizens with conscious minds and caring souls!

Moreover, it was exactly a month after Yonatan’s sentencing I read in The Atlantic of Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo’s release on medical parole from official prison to home imprisonment with security guards. The 61-year old Nobel Laurette had already served seven of his 11-year prison term due to his advanced cancer diagnosis China refusing him early treatment — as does the TPLF in Ethiopia.

Sadly, not long after, we are informed, Liu Xiaobo left for good only days after his home imprisonment.

When the international community now holds Beijing responsible for the death of the Nobel Laurette activist, the response of Chinese leaders all the more has become troubling. They insist everyone desist from meddling in its internal affairs, the logic of which in the 21st century is simply bewildering.

Facebook: Truly subversive against authoritarian regimes?

Surely, notwithstanding the thirty-year gap between Liu Xiaobo and Yonatan, Liu’s seniority in professional experiences and the Nobel Prize for Peace he had in his belt, one still notices in both men similar commitment to freedom of speech and respect for human rights.

Unfortunately, China and Ethiopia, each in its own way and for the self-serving interests of those in power, have chosen to view such demand as subversive and violent, denying inherency of these rights as human needs, ascertained as the received wisdom via natural law and from religions societies have followed through the ages and past civilisations have further developed!

Like Yonatan, Liu Xiaobo’s crime was cherishing his right to free expression, to help him live in a world of his quest and as equal to the next person, in peace and dignity, states and their institutions respecting his needs and serving one and all.

To that end, Liu Xiaobo authored in 2008 his pro-democracy manifesto called Charter 08; with its instrumentality conveying the goals and objectives he had in mind. He courageously called for an end to China’s one-party rule and improvements in the respect by country of human rights.


It is while my heart was heavy with such human cruelty, especially that of the TPLF in my own country, I recently came across an informative research on China’s extensive actions on its versions of the Facebook, aiming to counter through sophisticated strategies what it considers social media subversion: How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument (April 9, 2017).

Because of the huge benefits it avails to readers, I have thus decided to share what I thought are essentials on this page.

The authors of this useful research are academicians — three professors: Gary King (Harvard University), Jennifer Pan (Stanford University) and Margaret E. Roberts (California University at San Diego).

Their work informs:

“The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2,000,000 people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called “50c party” posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates…We estimate that the government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year.”

The research shows that Beijing’s activities in this area range: from injecting their thinking and political objectives into the public realm, i.e., while suppressing that of those differing from theirs, to the “Great Firewall of China” censoring on a daily and hourly basis what companies are prevented from operating, to “how and why they censor certain individual social media posts that have appeared on the web or filter them out before appearing.”

Notwithstanding such an invasive scrutiny of the social media in China, nonetheless, King and further point out:

“In both cases [hows and whys of censorship], the censorship apparatus allows a great deal of criticism of the regime, its officials, and their policies (which can be useful information for the central government in managing local leaders) but stops discussions that can generate collective action on the ground.”

An important message from this research is that how the Chinese leaders have turned into their gain the debacle they had faced during the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, inspiring nation-wide movement against the Communist Party.

China’s response to the Tiananmen Square student protests is premised on acknowledging it. It is the first most serious challenge of its kind for the country, in particular through mass mobilisation. Secondly, the strategies respond with the goal of avoiding its repetition to the extent possible by forestalling it by peaceful means before reaching crisis stage.

Before going into the details, we many need to consider the meaning of the reference to social media in China. It relates, among others, to Weibo (equivalent of Facebook and Twitter, especially Sina Weibo), Tencent Qzone (equivalent of Facebook and Twitter), Tencent Wechat (Mobile communication and private social networking app), Renren (equivalent of Facebook in China) and Youku & Tudou (equivalent of YouTube).

While ordinary Chinese and businesses actively engage in these media for exchange purposes (goods and services, as well as information, entertainment and for social activism), for the Chinese government the social media’s importance lies in being vehicle for its political objectives, the purposes of its utilisation justified as the promotion of societal harmony.

The difference between China’s and that of the TPLF is that, the Ethiopian regime is brutal; it is inhumanely vindictive and its responses harsh and bloody. Owing to this, the TPLF has long been labeled criminal, deserving standing on the dock of the International Criminal Court (ICC) — a system of international justice it has long sought to put out of existence in collaboration with other known African dictators!

So far, it has managed to protect ICC-indictee Omar al-Bashir and has managed to scuttle cases in the court, though without exoneration of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto! Both men have now started their re-election bids for August 8 on a platform that as of this month has sought criminalising the social media.

This has now cast even shadow on the forthcoming election, with TPLF-sort deceit and suppression in one of the few African nations freedom of the press has been the hallmark of its vibrant media!

TPLF is a curse for Africa! What Kenyan leaders’ plan is to keep “a close eye on political posts and what they called in the latest decree “sensational reporting” on “unauthenticated digital platforms” such as those hosted on Facebook and Twitter.”

Unlike Ethiopia under the lawless TPLF, not lost in Kenya are the courts and judiciary always endeavouring to uphold the law. In Ethiopia, unlike Kenya in many respects, the problem is that the law and its institutions have been the real instruments in the hands of the ruling party to undermine citizens, justice and the nation itself.

Increasingly, as in China, now the social media has been added for subversion by the TPLF, both at home and abroad!

Kenya has already copied repressive TPLF practices from Ethiopia. The Ethiopian practice in suppression of citizens has pleased and become example to emulate by many equally repressive regime’s behaviour and practices.

On July 14, 2017, the TPLF regime in a self-congratulatory manner announced its election as president of Africa’s political parties media forum.

The day I saw it, out of disappointment and embarrassment in Africa, I twitted:

On his part, TPLF darling Daniel Berhane expressed his concern about the TPLF transferring to other nations its persecution of journalists, affirming how much the Front is a threat to African and human progress in the region, as follows:

…(To be continued. Part II would discuss how the TPLF uses social media to discourage its opponents or insert articles on social media under false names. The article would mention, as example some names on such duty for the TPLF).

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