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Analysis: Teachers, Doctors not spared as use of excessive force, extrajudicial killings in Oromia intensify. What we know so far

Fikadu Tolera (Picture: His Facebook page)

By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne &

Bileh Jelan @Bilejelan

Addis Abeba, November 02/2020 – Several deadly measures taken by law enforcement agents have been reported with different counts of fatality and injuries especially after the killing of Haacaaluu Hundessaa. The shootings were reported to kill mostly youngsters and at times adults including religious leaders who happened to be unarmed and non-violent at the moments. Recently similar incidents of fatal measures have been reported to be taken by the Oromia Special Forces at different part of Oromiya.

The Oromia Special Force in a statement given by Commander Girma Abdisa, Commander of Oromia Special Force regiment in Nekemte to Oromia Broadcasting Network (OBN) said, “Oromia Special Force has killed four individuals who were linked to killing of its officers last week.” The statement reads, “Oromia Special Force received a community tip about the individuals being connected to armed individuals responsible of the killing of members of the Oromia Special Force last week in Nekemte, the tip also provided the location of the suspects which then led to the police force arriving at the location demanding the surrender of the suspects and faced by fire, the special force responded and killed all four.”

Victims of Nekemte – 5 youngsters claimed to be shot dead

From Top Left – 1) Raguel Hailu 2) Yisihak Zelaem 3) Henock 4) Seifu Kedir 5)Ararso Kebede (Picture: Social Media)

Commander Girma said that weapons and other explosives have been seized from the location. The recent crackdown in Nekemte is of different nature according to governments accounts of the incident. The statement indicated that 4 individuals were killed while activists’ accounts contradict that statement and put the number of victims at 5. Ararso Kebede, Seifu Kedir (Felmeta), Raguel Hailu, Yisihak Zelalem (Abitii) and Henock  were shot by Oromia Special Force on October 23, 2020 while all individuals were suspected of being linked to the murder of Oromia Special Force officers, accounts by activists say that Seifu was attempting to flee the site when he was shot.  

Addis Standard spoke to a high school friend of the victims who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal who said, “Everyone is a member of Waraana Bilisummaa Oromoo (WBO) to the regional government, even if you are just a peaceful protester and they hunt you down.” He recounts the events that saw the death of his friends, “They did not open fire shots at them, and they were actually killed in their sleep. They were unarmed and were not a part of any armed group as they [Oromia Special Force] claimed.” He further added, “Raguel for example had his father arrested and he [Raguel] was labeled as an “Abba Torbe”, he spent time moving between cities for fear of being arrested or worse getting killed.” He continued, “The said community tip was delivered by people who are paid by the government. Their bodies were mutilated leaving them unrecognizable. I believe this tactic was used to blackmail and force the community to abstain from involvement in political activities. Their bodies remained where they were for an entire day, because Oromia Special Force forbade anyone from collecting them.”

The source described to Addis Standard that movement in “the area was restricted and the community was denied the chance to console the family and join them in grieving despite elders and religious leaders begging the city administration to let the family of victims collect the bodies. The city administration responded by threatening the elders according to him”. He concludes, “When we were allowed to collect their bodies, we were told to drag them on the floor or carry them by hand. We were threatened “If you bring cars, we will blow it up” eventually we collected the bodies on horse carts.” One of the victims’ parents (Ararso) was beaten by the Special Force and was admitted to Nekemte hospital. He later left the hospital for fear of the government accusing him of seeking media attention and punishing him for it, Addis Standard learned through the source. The funerals were attended by the Oromia Special Force.

A resident of Dembidolo who spoke to Addis Standard on conditions of anonymity said that “From October 20 to October 22, the town was in a tense standoff between the community and security forces. The tension intensified after an unidentified source shot and killed a member of the military on Thursday October 22, 2020 around 7:30 PM. Subsequently, government forces have been taking forceful measures on homes and business enterprises in Biftu sub-city around Anwar mosque, Kebele 06”. The source said, “Over 30 civilians have been injured and admitted to Dembidolo hospital and the business enterprises in that area are still closed”. He explained, “We have never seen anything like it, the whole area known as Safaraa Masjidaa (Masjid Neighborhood) by local communities witnessed a huge military presence. Raids were conducted in search of the culprits”.

The source who insisted on remaining anonymous and was worried speaking over the phone as military personnel were patrolling the area said to Addis Standard speaking on the aftermath of the incident, “Dembidolo residents are familiar to these situations, but what makes this time different from other times is that, in the next 4 days that followed the killing of the military officer, it was difficult to move around the town especially for the youth.” He continues, “The government forces were randomly beating and shaving heads of young men who were found walking the streets.”

Another source, a university student, expressed his and the town’s residents’ concerns about their personal safety and that of their town. He said, “The town’s economy is collapsing as a result of the deepening security crisis because the business community is fleeing the town. The hospitality industry especially restaurants and hotels are suffering due to absence of customers”. He recalled an incident on Easter when people were gathered at hotels and restaurants celebrating the holiday, “Gunshots were fired and everyone ran to save their lives leaving the bills unpaid.” He also expressed his concerns about the rural community who live in the surrounding areas of the town. He spoke of the farmers who are caught in cross fires between rebel forces and the military and are forced to migrate to Dembidolo town to work as daily laborers.

“There is a widespread fear of shortage of food and even hunger in the zone”, he said. “Government forces accuse local farmers of funding rebel forces.”  The source urged, “The media needs to convey the concerns of the community and unravel the potential humanitarian crisis that is unfolding.”

Dr Fekede Jaraa – Arrested with no trial, for no known reason

In Nejo, West Wollega, Oromia Regional State, Dr Fekede Jaraa, a medical doctor who runs a private clinic operating in the town was arrested and has been in custody for four weeks. Addis Standard spoke to Fekede’s wife Lensa who described the events that led to the arrest of Dr. Fekede “He was taken out of the clinic while finishing an appointment with a patient.” She points out that she was not told the reason behind his arrest and he hasn’t been charged yet.  According to Lensa, the court told her that the arrest was made on the order of the military command post and that the court has no authority over the matter.

Documents form court regarding Dr. Fekede

However, when Lensa spoke to Oromia Police Commission commissioner, Ararsa Merdasa he told her, that the arrest came after the police received tips from the community that he has connections to the armed rebel group. She expressed her frustration at how her husband is being treated and how shocked she was to see him when he was escorted by heavily armed troops while having their house and the clinic searched. “He has always been supportive of the government and took part in community development activities including providing aid in the fight against the pandemic.” she said.  Dr. Fekede, a native of Nejo and a father of 5 was always ready to stand by the government and has always participated in government sponsored initiatives according to his wife. She said, “The business is suffering in his absence because he employs over 14 people in the clinic.”

Issa Amino – Killed in Bekoji

Police violence left a trail of one death and two injuries on October 24, 2020 in Bekoji, Arsi Zone of the Oromia Regional State, a town known for being home of world class athletes,

Issa Amino (Picture: Social Media, verified by Addis Standard)

According to a family member who spoke to Addis Standard briefly on the phone, “Issa Amino was a 24 years old bachelor and he has no connection with any group.” The family member who was in distress refused to recount the events that led to Issa’s death while confirming to Addis Standard that “Issa was shot right in front of his house by security forces”.

Fikadu Tolera – Killed in Shashamane

In a related incident in Shashamane, West Arsi Zone Madda Walabu University lecturer Fikadu Tolera was shot and killed by Oromia Special Force a day after he posted a strongly worded Facebook post accusing the university administration of sexual misconduct. Addis Standard spoke to a close friend of Fikadu who said, “He had some trouble with the University administration for a while now that probably could be a factor behind his death. The family didn’t want to perform an autopsy and wanted to retrieve his body for immediate burial but the Oromia Special Force denied them that.”

A well-placed source inside the Shashamane Referral Hospital confirmed to Addis Standard that “the body of Fikadu Tolera was not presented for autopsy and that family members have insisted that the cause of death is a bullet wound”.

Addis Standard spoke to Mamiree Fikadu, Fikadu Tolera’s cousin who said, “His siblings are too young to understand what is going on, I myself only knew about his death through social media.” He continues, “I took a couple of family members and we went to verify the information as his parents asked us to do so.” he recounted, “When we arrived at Shashamane, first we went to every hospital to look for his body when we couldn’t find the body anywhere and all his co-workers were hesitant to tell us anything. We went to the Shashamane city police and to look for answers about his body’s whereabouts but they told us that they know nothing.”

When Addis Standard asked Mamiree of his knowledge about the events leading to his death and disappearance he said, “We don’t have his body, we don’t know if he is buried or not and no-one is telling us what has happened. We are just looking for answers. He has been away from home for 5 years now, this happened and we don’t know why. We will find answers. That is all I can say.” The head of Oromia Security bureau, Jebril Mohammed accused the lecturer of being a member of OLF-Shane group in an interview with VOA. He said, “Fikadu was under surveillance for a while. When law enforcement tried to arrest him, he opened fire on security forces and they returned and he was killed.” He also said “the lecturer moved to Shashamane a couple of months ago and was not a member of the Madda Walabu University anymore.” 

Both comments of Jerbril Mohammed about Fikadu not being a faculty member of the Madda Walabu University and not being a resident of Shashamane of was met by a confirmation from the dean of the college of health sciences at Mada Walabu university in the same VOA report and contradicted by the relative testimony that Fikadu has lived in Shashamane for 5 years.

Awal Abdurro – Killed in Roobee, Bale

This comes in the backdrop of a series of reports surfacing about an increasing use of excessive force by Oromia Special Police against unarmed civilians. Earlier in October Oromia Special Force shot and killed Awal Abdurro in an attempt to disperse a gathering of young protesters demanding the release of political prisoners. It also comes in the backdrop of an August round of violence that followed a round of protests calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to the militarization of the region, that crackdown on protests left a death toll of 42 mostly in East and West Hararghe. The crackdown was labeled at the time as “an attempt to turn the region into a war zone by calling on protests,” by the head of Oromia Regional State Communication Bureau, Getachew Balcha.

The head of Oromia Regional State Security Bureau Jebril Mohammed told VOA that “the regional government was well aware of the incidents; some of them involve law enforcement officers and some were due to personal disputes between civilians.” AS

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