Teachers in Ethiopia have been tortured, imprisoned and even killed for daring to ask for better pay and conditions and improvements in the education system, the head of the country's teaching union told teachers in England this week.
Gemoraw Kassa, general secretary of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association, said the government in Addis Ababa was so afraid of teachers speaking out against the regime that they were subject to intimidation, forced transfers, dismissals and even killings.
He explained to a fringe meeting at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Manchester that the regime had even stolen the name of his union and launched its own version that would not challenge its power.
He said the Ethiopian government also wanted the union to divide along ethnic and linguistic lines, in an attempt to weaken its ability to contradict those in power.
"All they want is to improve civil society, but for the Government, so long as we are not serving their purpose, they don't care about the education system," he said.
Steve Sinnott, the NUT's general secretary, visited Ethiopia recently to see the problems for himself and saw the alley where the deputy leaders of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association had been killed.
"It encapsulates the dangers of being a teacher trade unionist in Ethiopia," he said. "In our country we do not take any risks in speaking out, but there it takes brave people, like Gemoraw."
He said that the Ethiopian government's decision to steal the name of the country's union was a "despicable act".
Mr Kassa appears in a Teachers' TV programme broadcast today that examinines the problems faced by teachers working under oppressive government and military regimes. The programme, Persecuted Teachers, presented by Brendan O'Malley, former international editor of The TES, also looks at the problems in Afghanistan, Palestine, Thailand and Colombia.
'Persecuted Teachers' is showing today at 10.30am, 3.30pm and 6.30pm and can be viewed online at www.teachers.tv.