Call for Immediate Release of Oromo Detainees in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Government has once again intensified the arbitrary detention of prominent members of Oromo civil society for being critical of its policies against the Oromo. We call up on all democratic forces and human rights supporters to take immediate action to secure the release of these detainees.

 We the undersigned would like to bring the plight of the Oromo people in Ethiopia to the attention of the international community. Even though the Oromo people make up over 40% of the population of Ethiopia, successive Ethiopian governments have been systematically depriving them of their rights to freely participate in their own political affairs.  Reports from various human rights groups indicate that thousands of people from the Oromo ethnic group have been detained by Ethiopian security forces, and many of them tortured, in recent years under the pretext of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

In November 2008, prominent members of Oromo civil society -- politicians, university lecturers, businessmen, lawyers and other professional people -- have been arrested by Ethiopian government security forces under the pretext of supporting the OLF.  Reports by Amnesty International and Oromia Support Group indicate that at least 100 persons have been arrested including Mr. Asafa  Dibaba (Lecturer of Oromo Language at Addis Ababa University), Mr. Zerihun Wodajo (renowned Oromo artist), Mr. Bekele Jirata (Secretary General of Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), a legal political party with elected MPs in Ethiopia), Mrs. Lelise Wodajo (journalist and wife of exiled Oromo journalist Dhabasa Waqjira, himself a former detainee) and Mr. Gudata Dabale (High school teacher and Director of Finance of the Macha-Tulama Association, an Oromo welfare and self-help organisation whose members have been persecuted by successive Ethiopian governments since its inception in the 1960s). Arrests and house searches in Addis Ababa and across Oromia Region began on 29 October and have continued at least until 10 November. Detainees have been taken to the Maikelawi Central Investigation Department, notorious for the torture and detention without trial of political opponents to the regime.

As in similar waves of detention of Oromo civilians in 1997/8, 2002 and 2004, the only crime of the detainees has been to be critical of government policies against Oromo people and to refuse to join the government Oromo party, the OPDO. As in previous large scale arrests of prominent members of Oromo civil society, Ethiopian Television has broadcasted make-believe stories that weapons were found during forced searches of the homes of the accused.  Most of those who were detained and tortured during the previous large scale detentions were released after up to three years imprisonment, without ever being presented with any evidence to support allegations of "terrorism" and involvement with the OLF.

Therefore, we appeal to the international community to demand the unconditional and immediate release of persons held in the notorious Ethiopian security detention centres. In addition, we urge the Ethiopian government to respect the basic rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined by its own constitution and the UN universal declaration of human rights.

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