Why The U.S. Congress Should Focus On Thousands Of Political Prisoners And Slain Musician At House Hearing On The Conflict In Ethiopia

Why The U.S. Congress Should Focus On Thousands Of Political Prisoners And Slain Musician At House Hearing On The Conflict In Ethiopia

On the June 29 hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee with Assistant Secretary of State Robert F. Godec, the U.S. Congress should focus on the release of political prisoners to bring calm to Ethiopia ahead of dialogue. If the goal is to end the wars in Tigray and Oromia, certain conditions must be discussed and dealt with during the hearing.

Remembering Oromo Music Icon and Freedom Fighter Hachalu Hundessa

(Ollaa.org)-The date of the hearing happens to fall on the one year anniversary of the murder of heroic Oromian musician Hachalu Hundessa, who was killed for speaking out for Oromian rights and against several Ethiopian leaders for almost two decades.

Hachalu was initially imprisoned when he was 17 in 2003 for his political beliefs and spent five years in jail. While in prison, Hachalu wrote songs about the plight of Oromos, and released his first album in 2009, making him a star throughout Ethiopia.

Rather than go into exile after leaving prison, he became an important cultural figure. Hachula defiantly called on Oromo youth to protest the oppressive governments under then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his successor Hailemariam Desalegn.

Hachalu’s murder sparked mass protests throughout Ethiopia, which left at least 123 people dead (76 at the hands of Ethiopian security forces).

While media reports state that the motive for Hachalu’s killing is unclear, the singer often spoke about frequent death threats against him because of his outspoken political beliefs. It is too big of a coincidence that one of the most prominent and powerful voices against the Ethiopian government was shot and killed in a random act of violence.

At Tuesday’s hearing, getting justice for Hachalu must be taken up as a necessity for peace in Ethiopia, as his voice represented not only his own, but millions of Oromos. 

In August of 2020, 20 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for an investigation into Hachalu’s murder, and nothing happened. The U.S. must demand that Ethiopia finally conduct a full investigation into his murder and the murder of the hundreds of Oromos killed in the aftermath of his death. 

All Political Prisoners Must be Released

In the aftermath of the protests over Hachalu’s murder, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s former ally, Jawar Mohammed, along with over 50,000 others, was arrested and charged with terrorism.

The U.S. wants to have a dialogue with the Ethiopian government to end the conflict. But there can be no meaningful and impactful dialogue when Jawar Mohammed, the most popular political figure in Ethiopia and threat to Abiy as prime minister, remains in jail along with over 50,000 other political prisoners. For there to be a discussion with the Ethiopian government about ending the wars, opposition leaders must be included in the conversation and they must be released immediately. 

It is clear that Abiy’s grip on power is slipping. In an act of desperation on June 22, the Ethiopian government conducted a targeted airstrike on innocent civilians that left at least 64 people dead. A few days later on June 28, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front took back the Tigrayan capital city of Mekelle, a development that changed the playing field in Ethiopia. It means Abiy is no longer in total control. And if it can happen in Mekelle, it can happen throughout the country. It’s no wonder why he wants to keep his rivals locked away.

There are many issues involved with the Ethiopian conflict. Probably too many to cover in one Congressional hearing. But these areas are where the conversation must start. It is imperative that justice for Hachalu’s murder is served, and Jawar and all other political prisoners need to be released. All opposition parties included in the armed struggle must join the dialogue table.    

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