Mass Arrests of More Than 200 Ethnic Oromo Appear Politically Motivated

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Mass Arrests of More Than 200 Ethnic Oromo Appear Politically Motivated*

(London, April 6, 2011) – The Government of Ethiopia should immediately
release members of the ethnic Oromo political opposition detained without
charge after mass arrests, Human Rights Watch said today.

In March 2011, Ethiopian authorities carried out several waves of apparently
politically motivated mass arrests of more than 200 ethnic Oromo Ethiopians.
On March 30, the government confirmed that 121 were in detention without
charge, alleging that they were members of the Oromo Liberation Front, a
banned rebel armed group. The government told journalists that it had
obtained court orders to continue to hold the 121 individuals while it
gathers evidence against them.

“The Ethiopian government appears to be back to the old tricks of ‘detain
first, ask questions later,’” said Rona Peligal, deputy Africa director at
Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately free the Oromo
opposition members unless they can bring credible charges against them.”

Ethiopia’s international partners should press the government to release the
detainees immediately if it cannot credibly charge them, Human Rights Watch

The authorities arrested 40 members of the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) in
a mass roundup from March 12 through March 14 in several districts of
Ethiopia’s Oromia region. Those detained included long-serving party
officials and many candidates in the 2010 regional and parliamentary
elections. Several of them remain unaccounted for, OPC party officials told
Human Rights Watch.

At least 68 members of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), an
opposition political party, are among those arbitrarily arrested between
March 1 and March 15, according to party officials. Those arrested include
former members of Parliament, former local government candidates for
election, civil servants, teachers, and students. OFDM officials reported
that at least two were beaten at the time of arrest, and the whereabouts of
several remain unknown.

Torture is a routine practice at Addis Ababa’s Maikelawi, or Central
Investigation Unit, where the majority of the detainees are believed to be
held, Human Rights Watch said.

Reports of the arrests broadcast on Voice of America’s Amharic service have
been jammed by the government the radio service said in a statement on its
website, further raising concerns that the roundups are politically

Oromia is Ethiopia’s largest and most populous region. Its regional
government is controlled by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization
(OPDO), a member of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic
Front (EPRDF).

The Ethiopian government has a long history of using accusations of support
for the Oromo Liberation Front, an armed rebel group that has been carrying
out a low-level insurgency for more than a decade, as a pretext for cracking
down on political dissent among the Oromo population.

While Ethiopia has valid security concerns related to sporadic bombings and
other attacks, the government has routinely cited terrorism to justify
suppressing nonviolent opposition and arbitrarily detaining peaceful
government critics. The authorities have indicated that they may charge
several of the detainees under the new Anti-Terrorism Law, which Human
Rights Watch and others have criticized on human rights grounds.

Enacted in July 2009, the Anti-Terrorism Law severely restricts the right to
freedom of expression. It contains an overly broad definition of acts of
terrorism that could be used to suppress non-violent peaceful protests, and
greatly expands police powers of search, seizure, and arrest. The law also
provides for holding “terrorist suspects” for up to four months without
charge. These provisions violate basic human rights requirements of due
process. Human Rights Watch expressed concern at the time that the new law
would become a potent tool for suppressing political opposition and
legitimate criticism of government policy.

The Ethiopian constitution requires the government to bring a person taken
into custody before a court within 48 hours and to inform the person of the
reasons for their arrest, a protection that is already systematically
violated. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which
Ethiopia is a party, provides that anyone arrested for a criminal offense
shall be brought before a judicial authority and promptly charged.

*For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Ethiopia, please visit:*

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