NEWS ANALYSIS: OLF OFFICIALLY OUT FROM UPCOMING ELECTION, CONTINUES CALL FOR RELEASE OF ITS JAILED LEADERSHIP, MEMBERS

NEWS ANALYSIS: OLF OFFICIALLY OUT FROM UPCOMING ELECTION, CONTINUES CALL FOR RELEASE OF ITS JAILED LEADERSHIP, MEMBERS

Hundreds of thousands of OLF fans turned op at Addis Abeba Mesqel Square in September 2018. Photo: Social Media

BY SIYANNE MEKONNEN @SIYAANNE 

Addis Abeba, March 10/2021 – The opposition party Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has officially announced that it has withdrawn from the upcoming election. In an interview with Addis Standard the party’s interim public relations head, Batte Urgessa, a staggering number of names of the party’s leadership and members who are currently jailed, as well as list of its offices which are forcibly shut down either by the federal or Oromia regional state security forces, which Batte said has depopulated the party of its key personnel, and deprived it of the ability to organize for election.

MOST OF THE MEMBERS WERE TAKEN AND ARRESTED EITHER FROM THEIR WORKPLACES OR HOMES. SOME WERE ARRESTED WHILE THEY WERE VISITING OTHER JAILED MEMBERS.

 BATTE URGESSA

In announcing its final decision to pull of the upcoming general election scheduled for June 05, the party listed down multiple reasons, including harassment of many forms, by the ruling party. In a statement released on March 8, the OLF chronicled the events that necessitated its decision to pull out of the election. “In hindsight, it is now clear that the regime never wanted the end of hostilities,” the statement read, recalling the “propaganda attack and disinformation campaign” it faced shortly after its return from exile between July and September 2018.

According to Batte many of the members are under police custody despite courts “repeatedly” granting bail and dismissing their cases for lack of sufficient evidence. Most of the members were taken and arrested either from their workplaces or homes. Some were arrested while they were visiting other jailed members. Twenty four members of the party were arrested from the headquarters alone in August last year and the headquarters remained inaccessible to party members, guarded by Addis Abeba police. More than 108 offices are closed by Oromia police across the regional state, according to him.

Bette spoke of several arbitrary arrests and haphazard legal proceedings that featured rearrests, delayed trials, dishonor of court orders and transfer of detainees to different detention centers without adequate reason and family’s knowledge. Addis Standard had received a list of more than 200  jailed members and 15 offices closed across several zones in Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regional states as well as Addis Abeba city administration.

Abdi Ragassa, Colonel Gemechu Ayana, Michael Bekele (Michael Boran) Lamii Begna, Dawit Abdeta are among the senior jailed leadership of the OLF who made the headlines but there are hundreds of others consisting of members of the executive committee, central committee, as well as the national congress and several zonal and woreda coordinators and rank and file cadres. A total of 30 higher officials and 145 mid level officials of the party are currently under arrest, according to Batte. 

Lammi Begna and Dawit Abdeta were rearrested on November 20, 2020 where they were at court to attend their own court hearing. Since then the pair have been transferred to a detention center in Mojo. On March 4, 2021 the prosecutor of Oromia region’s court appealed to the federal court where they are accused of terrorism and inciting violence. 

Aman Filele, a member of the national congress and head of organizational affairs was arrested on March 5, 2020 and tried in Burayu town in Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finfinne. Later on he was transferred to a detention center in Yabelo, Borana zone, after the court ordered his release. Aman was arrested a year ago while he was visiting another jailed member, Abdi Regassa. Abdi is a member of the executive committee and representative of Central Oromia. He was arrested on February 3, 2020 by Oromia and Addis Abeba police according to the letter OLF wrote to the NEBE. He was granted a 20,000 ETB bail. The secretary of the chairman, Meti Milko has been arrested for over five months without trial. Michael Bekele, another member of the executive committee, was  arrested alongside Kenasa Ayana, a member of the national congress since July 4, 2020. A court has ordered their release three times but they remain under custody and are facing mistreatment.

FINALLY THE COURT CLOSED THEIR FILES AND DISMISSED THEIR CASES ON FEBRUARY 22, 2021. BUT THEY REMAIN UNDER POLICE CUSTODY AS OF THE WRITING OF THIS NEWS.

On the other hand, three journalists and a cameraman from the media outlet affiliated with the party, Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromo (SBO) are also arrested since December last year. They face several accusations, according to their defense team. They were initially accused of smuggling money from TPLF to Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), followed by an accusation of killing of an unspecified individual and robbery of unspecified nature. Finally the court closed their files and dismissed their cases on February 22, 2021. But they remain under police custody as of the writing of this news.

Batte said that the members are detained under unfavorable conditions in informal detention centers; camps of special Oromia police. Michael Boran and Kenasa Ayana complained about  being denied access to medical treatment.  Another member of the party, Lammi Gemechu told Addis Standard similar experiences of jailed members where upto 68 people are detained in one cell exposed to communicable disease. The detainees are denied treatment and they are not provided with food, except for 20 ETB a day. The informant quoted Lammi Begna And Dawit Abdeta saying there was an assasination attempt at the detention center in Mojo.  On March 2, 2021, the two of them were forcefully taken out of their cells by armed men at 1 AM in the morning. However, the rest of the detainees yelled for their release after and they were let go.

Despite the party voicing its concerns over the upcoming election and filing complaints to  Oromia police commission, Federal Police commission, Addis Abeba Police commission and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE),  the party’s headquarter in Addis Abeb, Gulele Sub city remains inaccessible by the party according to Batte, and many of its members from the headquarter are still under custody while the arrests continue.

Gada Gabbisa, a political officer of the party was arrested on February 9, 2021, according to Lammi Gemechu, while he was returning from a training he attended by an institute called National Democratic Institute. On his second appearance in court on March 8, 2021, he was accused of attempting to forcefully overthrow the government. The court allowed the police additional 14 days to remand and investigate him. On February 22, 2021, Michael Bekele and Kenasa Ayana announced that they have relieved their lawyers of their duties, “There is no reason to waste our lawyers time anymore.”

“THIS IS A NON ELECTION” THE STATEMENT READ, AND SAID THAT THE COUNTRY DOESN’T FULFILL THE BARE MINIMUM PREREQUISITES TO HOLD FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS

On March 8, 2021, the party finally announced its withdrawal from the election which it accused the ruling party of using the election to create the impression that it is an elected government. “ This is a non election” the statement read, and said that the country doesn’t fulfill the bare minimum prerequisites to hold free and fair elections. The statement concluded by putting forward suggestions for a democratization process; the release of all political prisoners, restoration of closed offices of opposition parties, ending hostilities in all parts of the country, ensuring the independence of the NEBE, judiciary and law enforcement institutions and political settlement  through an inclusive dialogue. AS