Nov 20, 2008

Oromo: Concern Over State of Detainees Continues

Active ImageThe detention of 15 Oromos in Ethiopia underlines a broad disregard for international legal norms.
Below is an excerpt from an appeal by Amnesty International:

At least 15 members of the Oromo ethnic group […] have been arrested in the capital Addis Ababa and also reportedly in eastern and western parts of the Oromia region of Ethiopia, since around 30 October 2008. Most are reportedly held incommunicado in detention facilities in Addis Ababa, including Maikelawi, where torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners has been reported in the past.

Some of those detained were reportedly briefly brought before a primary court, accused of financially supporting the OLF [Oromo Liberation Front].  Some were also paraded on state television on 5 November [2008]. Amnesty International believes that those detained are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

The Government of Ethiopia, including the National Anti-Terrorism Taskforce, has reportedly claimed that those detained had links to the armed opposition group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and a previously unknown armed group, Kawerj.

Bekele Jirata [one of the arrested] is General Secretary of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) party, a small registered political party in Ethiopia that holds seats in parliament.

Others arrested include Asefa Tefera, a lecturer at Addis Ababa University, and a number of students. Leslie Wodajo is a journalist who worked for the Oromo television programme on Ethiopian state television. On 12 September, the airtime of this programme was cut, a move the OFDM and another opposition party, the Oromo National Congress, claimed was politically motivated. Sixty staff members of the Oromo television programme were also removed from their jobs, many of them placed under security surveillance while their movements in Addis Ababa were restricted.

The OFDM has strongly denied that Bekele Jirata, or the party, has had any links to the OLF. In April, the party accused the Ethiopian authorities of intimidation during local elections, the first held since the post- election violence of 2005 which killed some 187 civilians.

This wave of arrests follows on a series of suicide bombings in Hargeisa, Somaliland, one of which targeted the Ethiopian consulate, killing several Ethiopian officials and a number of Somalilanders queuing for visas.