Mass protests force Ethiopia to free opposition leader

Mass protests force Ethiopia to free opposition leader

Bekele Gerba and seven other political figures suddenly cleared of charges and let out of jail after being arrested in 2015

Plumes of smoke are seen behind buildings in Addis Ababa, Oromiya, Ethiopia, amid protests over the detention of opposition leaders. Photograph: Reuters

(theguardian) —Ethiopia has released a senior opposition leader from prison and dropped all charges against him after demonstrators blocked roads and staged protest rallies in several towns.

Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out in the Oromiya region over accusations that farmers were being forced to sell land with scant compensation.

He was held initially on terrorism charges, later reduced to incitement to violence.

“He just walked out of prison. We have confirmed that all charges against him have been dropped,” said Mulatu Gemechu, a member of the OFC’s leadership.

State-affiliated media confirmed Bekele had been freed along with seven other opposition figures and that the charges against him had been dropped. Ethiopia’s information minister was not available for comment.

Bekele’s release came amid a three-day strike across Oromiya province, which surrounds the capital, as well as a mass pardoning of dissidents by the government aimed at reducing unrest that has simmered since 2015.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January, mainly people who had been detained for alleged involvement in unrest in Oromiya, or, to a lesser extent, the Amhara region.

Last month, Bekele was given six months for contempt of court after he and other opposition members sang a protest song during their trial. Had he not been freed, a verdict on his incitement charge would have been handed down on 7 March.

On Tuesday large crowds marched in various towns in Oromiya and roads remained blocked with large stones, including in the towns of Jimma, Woliso and Legetafo.

Markets, schools and banks remained closed in most of the areas, residents said. Some protesters attacked vehicles.

“Many Oromo politicians remain unjustly incarcerated, such as Bekele,” said one protester in the town of Jimma, who gave his name only as Awol, speaking before news that Bekele had been freed. “All should be released. That is why we are striking.”

Sparked initially by an urban development plan for the capital, unrest spread in 2015 and 2016 with demonstrations against political restrictions and human rights abuses.

Rights groups say hundreds have died in the violence.

Ethiopia is often accused of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent, as well as suppressing non-governmental organisations and the media, which the government denies.

1 Comment

  1. Since this released political prisoners have been innocent of anything wrong doing, arresting and torturing them itself had been among the countless crimes the TPLF criminal group has committed against humanity, in the name of governing the country. While the release of these prominent political prisoners is a really good news, the TPLF Ethiopian government needs to go long way to address the demands of the Oromo pepeole in particular and the Ethiopian peoples in general. I am pesonally thriled by the news of the release of Dr Gudina and others as I was lucky to meet some of these Oromo political giants during my student days. All the reasons for the protests and pending political questions must be genuinely addressed for the people to stop their just protests. Anything short of that should not be considered as complete victory.

    The Oromo pepeole, other Ethiopians and the International community also must remember that there are unrecognised numerous real political prisoners abducted by TPLF security personnel and langshing in unknown prisons and multiple concentration camps in Ethiopia. I personally was unlucky to witness the abduction of an Oromo young individual who managed to tell me his name as “Amanty Abdissa” at Bole International Airport back around 2001/2002. As I worked for an international company I was by the air field when Amanty was abducted from a flight to Nairobi Kenya by TPLF head of security (whose name, I was told was “Desalegn”). Amanty was duely cleared by immigration and airpot security and was boarding the flight when he was led by the abductor behind the terminal building. All I was able to do for that victim was to track down the Editor of the now closed pro Oromo Amharic Newspaper and publish the story straight away. As I myself went into exile months later, and I understand that the Editor of that Newspaper is also exiled, I haven’t had opportunity to find out what the fate of Amanty might have been. Hope that he is alive and well.

    The Oromo pepeole and the entire Ethiopian pepeoles should continue to protest peacefully and demand the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia, particularly the young individuals who are ‘nameless’, including Amanty (if he is still in prison). They must continue their struggle and win their rights from the TPLF group who has brought untold misery to the majority of Ethiopians.

    Well done the Oromo and other Ethiopians for standing up to tyranny!

    O. Abbalichie

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