September 12, 2011

Ethiopia: Government clamps down on opposition

including prominent opposition figures, were arrested last week, sending shock waves into the opposition camp. All the arrested people were accused of plotting bomb attacks in the Horn of Africa nation, according to senior security officials. The major opposition coalition in the country, Medrek (Forum), said the arrest was a continuation of the government’s move to stifle political dissent in the country.

Demelash Woldemikael, deputy commissioner of federal police, said the arrest of the suspects started since 27 August, noting that they all had links with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a secessionist group in Addis Ababa, blacklisted as terrorists last year.

Woldemikael claimed that, ‘they were all trained by OLF and we’ve found plenty of evidence proving that they plotted to bomb targets,’ adding that seven of the suspects are members of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress party, while two are from the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement.

Medrek and Human Rights Watch have accused the government of cracking down on opposition campaigners from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s biggest, with 27 million people, out of a population of 80 million.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is Washington’s closest ally in the Horn of Africa but has been criticised by rights groups for crushing dissent.

Meles said ‘terrorists’ are using political party membership to hide their activities.

About 121 Oromos were arrested in March, accused of being OLF members.

Two opposition leaders from the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement and the Oromo People’s Congress were detained late last month on suspicion of OLF links.

The latest prominent figure arrested is Debebe Eshetu, a famed actor, who was apprehended Thursday, 7 September, was accused of links with another banned opposition party, Ginbot 7.

Medrek said the two Oromos had been detained after meeting a delegation from the international rights group, Amnesty International, which confirmed it had met the two leaders.

‘We have the evidence to prove against that. Their political activity had nothing to do with their incarceration,’ police said.

Actor Debebe was arrested on allegations he was “plotting to carry out a terrorist attack,” coordinating with Ginbot 7.

Debebe grew into political prominence in 2005, when a major opposition group – Kinijit – emerged a critical challenge to the ruling EPRDF.

He, along with dozens of prominent opposition figures, were charged with treason, following the disputed 2005 election and sentenced to life in prison. They were granted pardon in 2007.

The leader of Ginbot 7, Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005, was also imprisoned with Debebe and after his pardon in 2007, he fled to the US and set up Ginbot 7.

“Debebe Eshetu has never been in any way or form associated with Ginbot 7,” Berhanu said in an e-mailed response to journalists in Addis Ababa, asserting that “this measure by the government, in addition to all the arrests it has been doing in the past few weeks, is simply a futile attempt to terrorize people into submission.”

Ginbot 7 is banned because it has “openly declared” violence to achieve its objective and also “resorts to terror activity,” the government argued.

Ginbot 7’s primary mission is for political authority to be “assumed through peaceful and democratic process based on the free will and choice of citizens of the country,” according to the group’s website.

Also during the week, the government charged two Swedish reporters and two ethnic-Somali rebels with terror offences after they were detained in July in the restive Ogaden region.

Five others, including three Ethiopian journalists, were also charged under the country’s anti-terror laws for involvement in a separate plot.

Pana 12/09/2011


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