Addis Abeba Dec. 1/2016 – Security forces implementing Ethiopia’s six-month State of Emergency have last night detained prominent opposition party leader Dr. Merera Gudina, Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), upon his arrival at Bole International Airport.
Details of what transpired at the airport are sketchy, but sources told Addis Standard that Dr. Merera was first taken by security forces who have identified themselves as members of the command post overseeing the State of emergency at around 7:30 PM soon after his arrival at the airport. He was then taken to his residence along with several members of his family who came to pick him from the airport. “Merera’s residence was locked from all direction by heavily armed men,” a family member who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of his own security told Addis Standard via phone. “It took security forces several hours before they took him to Ma’ekelawi prison after mid-night. No one was allowed in and out of his residence and no one knows what was happening inside,” our source said.
This morning family members were prohibited access to Dr. Merera at the Ma’ekelawi prison located at the heart of the Piassa. One member told Addis Standard that prison guards have denied Dr. Merera’s presence inside the prison, a practice commonly exercised by security guards. “We know that he was taken inside shortly after midnight but we can’t communicate with him,” she said.
Other sources say after his arrival at the airport Dr. Merera first went to his residence with his family members and claim that security forces have only arrived at his residence a few hours later. But several people contacted by Addis Standard couldn’t substantiate this claim and say he arrived at his residence after he was already detained by security forces upon his arrival at the airport.
Dr. Merera was touring Europe for more than three weeks during which he delivered a speech to members of the European Union Parliament. He appeared at the EU parliament to testify on current political crisis and human rights violations in Ethiopia. Dr. Merera was joined by two other prominent invitees: Dr. Berhanu Nega, leader of the opposition Patriotic Ginbot 7 (G7), which is designated by Ethiopia’s ruling party dominated parliament as a “terrorist organization” and is now actively fighting the regime from the northern part of the country, and athlete Feyisa Lilessa, Olympic silver medalist who gave a significant impetus to a year-long Oromo protest that gripped Ethiopia when he crossed his arms in an X sign at the finishing line.
Pro-government activists were hostilely calling for the arrest of Dr. Merera after pictures of him sitting next to Dr. Berhanu and athlete Feyissa have circulated on Ethiopian social media sites. They claimed that Dr. Merera violated both Ethiopia’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), and the six-month sweeping State of Emergency law by appearing alongside a leader whose party is designated as a terrorist organization.
Our attempts to reach Dr. Negeri Lencho, newly appointed government communication affairs minister, were unsuccessful. However, Dr. Negeri told The Washington Post that “he had no information about the arrest.”
Dr. Merera’s arrest is not surprising, it “signifies the government’s particular heavy-handedness targeting the Oromo people and opposition political parties representing the Oromo,” said a political science lecturer at the Addis Abeba University and Dr. Merera’s longtime friend. “The story of all prominent Oromo opposition party leaders are the same: they all end up jailed,” said the lecturer who wishes to remain anonymous.
Currently, several members of OFC including Bekele Gerba and Dejene Fita Geleta, first secretary general and secretary general respectively are facing terrorism charges. Bekele Gerba was arrested for the second time since 2011, during which he was sentenced to eight years in prison suspected of allegedly belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Bekele spent almost four of the eight years before he was freed in April 2015 only to be re-arrested in Nov. 2015 following a wave of protests by the Oromo.
The other notable opposition figure serving eight years prison term is Olbana Lelisa, who was arrested along with Bekele Gerba in 2011. Olbana was a high-ranking leader of the Oromo People’s Congress Party (OPC), which has since merged with the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM) to form OFC, which is led by Dr. Merera.
Dr. Merera, an associate professor of Political science at the Addis Abeba University before his illegal dismissal last year, first founded the opposition party Oromo National Congress (ONC) as far back as 1996. He has been actively engaged in opposition politics in the country and was once an elected member of parliament. He is a well-known critic of the ruling party. AS