Dismantling Dissent Intensified Crackdown on Free Speech in Ethiopia

December 22, 2011 (Amnesty International) – Between 200 and 300 ethnic Oromos were arrested in March and April in widespread sweeps in the Oromia region and in Addis Ababa. Arrests were reported from towns across the region, including Moyale, Jimma, Harar and Nekemte.

At least 89 members of the two largest Oromo political parties – the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) were among those arrested. Many of them had been members of the national parliament or of the Oromia regional assembly from 2005 to 2010, and had also stood unsuccessfully for re-election in the 2010 general elections. For instance Berhanu Emiru, arrested in April, is a member of the Executive Committee of the OFDM, and a high school physics teacher. Berhanu campaigned in the 2010 elections and authored documents such as statements and media articles for the party. 32 of those arrested, including Asfaw Ngasso, Gutu Mulesa and Mengesha Tolesa, were OPC candidates in the 2010 elections. Asfaw Ngasso and Gutu Mulesa were also OPC members of parliament between 2005 and 2010. A number of youth and student members of the two parties, including a 17 year old girl who was a supporter of the OFDM, were also arrested in the March and April sweeps.

A second round-up of Oromo opposition parties’ members occurred in late August and early September with at least 20 people being arrested. Among those arrested were nine OFDM and OPC members including Bekele Gerba, an English teacher at Addis Ababa University and deputy chairman of the OFDM, and Olbana Lelisa, an OPC party official. Both men had met with Amnesty International delegates just days before their arrests.

All the OPC and OFDM members were arrested on suspicion that they were members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an armed insurgent group which was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian parliament in June 2011. Members of the Oromo political opposition have been charged with OLF membership countless times in the past.

The OFDM and OPC told Amnesty International that a number of their members arrested in March and April have subsequently disappeared, leading to concerns that these individuals are being held in arbitrary detention. The families of these individuals have reported to OFDM and OPC that they have never been produced in court and that their current location is unknown. Amnesty International requested information about the details of all those arrested in Oromia and Addis Ababa in March and April, including names and locations of those arrested but not yet charged. However, the government responded that it was unable to provide such details, as collated information did not exist.

According to OPC officials, arrests continued in the Oromia region between September and November, and in particular in the Wallega, Ambo and Harar areas of Oromia. Sometime in September, Bekele Argasa, a student at Adama University, was arrested and transferred to Maikelawi detention centre in Addis Ababa where he remains in detention without charge. Argasa was an OPC candidate for the Oromia regional council in the 2010 elections. It has been difficult for OPC officials to establish how many of their members have been arrested, or the details of any charges preferred, because of ever-increasing restrictions on communications and exchange of information.

Representatives of other groups critical of the government have also been arrested during 2011. Most notably large numbers of students were arrested across the Oromia region, including from the universities of Jimma, Haromaya and Nekemte. The authorities have not availed any official information on these arrests including names of those arrested, what they are charged with and where they are detained. In the absence of functioning civil society organisations

who could monitor and document large scale arrests and the fate of those arrested, these cases are severely under reported and are not subjected to independent monitoring or oversight. The students’ cases are not covered in the focus of this report, but the outcome of those arrests requires scrutiny.

– Full Text Story: Dismantling Dissent Intensified in Crackdown on Free Speech in Ethiopia


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