amnesty“I was arrested for about eight months. Some school students had been arrested, so their classmates had a demonstration to ask where they were and for them to be released. I was accused of organising the demonstration because the government said my father supported the OLF so I did too and therefore I must be the one who is organising the students.” Young man from Dodola Woreda, Bale Zone.
The anticipation and repression of dissent in Oromia manifests in many ways. The below are some of the numerous and varied individual stories contained in this report:
A student told Amnesty International how he was detained and tortured in Maikelawi Federal Police detention centre because a business plan he had prepared for a competition was alleged to be underpinned by political motivations. A singer told how he had been detained, tortured and forced to agree to only sing in praise of the government in the future. A school girl told Amnesty International how she was detained because she refused to give false testimony against someone else. A former teacher showed Amnesty International where he had been stabbed and blinded in one eye with a bayonet during torture in detention because he had refused to ‘teach’ his students propaganda about the achievements of the ruling political party as he had been ordered to do. A midwife was arrested for delivering the baby of a woman who was married to an alleged member of the Oromo Liberation Front. A young girl told Amnesty International how she had successively lost both parents and four brothers through death in detention, arrest or disappearance until, aged 16, she was left alone caring for two young siblings. An agricultural expert employed by the government told how he was arrested on the accusation he had incited a series of demonstrations staged by hundreds of farmers in his area, because his job involved presenting the grievances of the farmers to the government.
In April and May 2014, protests broke out across Oromia against a proposed ‘Integrated Master Plan’ to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia regional territory. The protests were led by students, though many other people participated. Security services, comprised of federal police and the military special forces, responded to the protests with unnecessary and excessive force, firing live ammunition on peaceful protestors in a number of locations and beating hundreds of peaceful protestors and bystanders, resulting in dozens of deaths and scores of injuries. In the wake of the protests, thousands of people were arrested.
These incidents were far from being unprecedented in Oromia. They were the latest and bloodiest in a long pattern of the suppression – sometimes pre-emptive and often brutal – of even suggestions of dissent in the region.
The Government of Ethiopia is hostile to dissent, wherever and however it manifests, and also shows hostility to influential individuals or groups not affiliated to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) political party. The government has used arbitrary arrest and detention, often without charge, to suppress suggestions of dissent in many parts of the country. But this hostility, and the resulting acts of suppression, have manifested often and at scale in Oromia.
A number of former detainees, as well as former officials, have observed that Oromos make up a high proportion of the prison population in federal prisons and in the Federal Police Crime Investigation and Forensic Sector, commonly known as Maikelawi, in Addis Ababa, where prisoners of conscience and others subject to politically-motivated detention are often detained when first arrested. Oromos also constitute a high proportion of Ethiopian refugees.According to a 2012 Inter-Censal Population Survey, the Oromo constituted 35.3% of Ethiopia’s population. However, this numerical size alone does not account for the high proportion of Oromos in the country’s prisons, or the proportion of Oromos among Ethiopians fleeing the country. Oromia and the Oromo have long been subject to repression based on a widespread imputed opposition to the EPRDF which, in conjunction with the size of the population, is taken as posing a potential political threat to the government.
Between 2011 and 2014, at least 5,000 Oromos have been arrested as a result of their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government, based on their manifestation of dissenting opinions, exercise of freedom of expression or their imputed political opinion. These included thousands of peaceful protestors and hundreds of political opposition members, but also hundreds of other individuals from all walks of life – students, pharmacists, civil servants, singers, businesspeople and people expressing their Oromo cultural heritage – arrested based on the expression of dissenting opinions or their suspected opposition to the government. Due to restrictions on human rights reporting, independent journalism and information exchange in Ethiopia, as well as a lack of transparency on detention practices, it is possible there are many additional cases that have not been reported or documented. In the cases known to Amnesty International, the majority of those arrested were detained without charge or trial for some or all of their detention, for weeks, months or years – a system apparently intended to warn, punish or silence them, from which justice is often absent.