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Breaking: Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and others just released

From right: Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa and Hamza Borana

Addis Abeba, January 7, 2022- Members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and several other individuals who were arrested shortly after the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa were released today. Members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) such as Jawar Mohammad, Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, Hamza Borana, and many others were arrested from the premises of Oromia Cultural Center in Addis Abeba on June 30, 2020, a day after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa. Although some were released eventually, a total of 35 people, including the children of Bekele Gerba were arrested on that day. 

After months of pre-trial hearings, the prosecutor established charges against 20 defendants in Jawar Mohammed’s file in September 2020. The charges include ten counts in violation of Proclamation No. 1176 /2012 on Terrorism Prevention and Control; Telecom Fraud Proclamation No. 761/2004 and the Arms Management and Control Proclamation No. 1177/2012.

The trial of the defendants on Jawar Mohammed’s file was one of the most highly anticipated hearings featuring symbolic resistances by supporters, arrests, and attacks on families, massive social media campaigns, refusal to appear by the defendants. In February last year, protests broke out in different parts of Oromia regional state since. Protestors who took to the streets in Ambo and other places raised several demands, including the release of Oromo politicians, a resident of the city told Addis standard then. Many students were arrested and beaten by police according to eyewitnesses. In January 2020 the defendants refused to proceed with the hearing protesting with hunger strike the arrest of about 80 of their supporters from the premises of Federal High Court, Lideta branch.

On February 05, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said that “very close supervision is required to prevent any grave threat to their health and life and that reasonably justified demands of the prisoners must be addressed.” He added that “during visits to prisons or attending court hearings visitors must be treated properly.” Samantha Power, USAID administrator and representative Ilhan Omar also voiced their concerns over the deteriorating health conditions of the prisoners, who were on hunger strike and their treatment by the government.

The prisoners agreed to end the hunger strike after 40 days following a consorted effort by a group of elders, which included Ethiopia’s famed Olympian Derartu Tulu, religious and community leaders.

The release of the defendants on Jawar Mohammed’s file comes at the heels of the release of Eskinder Nega, founder of the opposition Balderas for Genuine Democracy, and the defendants on his file who were facing terrorism charges, and Five out of 20 senior TPLF leaders who were accused of organizing an illegal group to overthrow the constitutional order. While

While hundreds of thousands of prisoners who were arrested in the wake of Hachalu Hundessa’s assassination’ including senior Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) leaders remain behind bars, the Ministry of Justice said, “The charges were lifted to ensure inclusiveness and fruitfulness of the upcoming national dialogue.” The ministry added that the charges against the defendants in Jawar Mohammed’s file were dropped per Proclamation 943/2008.  

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed spoke about the need for “national reconciliation.” in his address to the public for the Ethiopian Christmas. “It will enable us to maintain our unity, it’s a given that Ethiopia will benefit from reconciliation,” the PM’s message read. In a separate message, the Prime Minister pledged to bring about transitional justice to hold those who committed crimes accountable. AS

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