Addis Abeba, September 24/2018 – Addis Abeba residents are expressing their shocks and frustrations on what they said was a “mass arrest” of the city’s youth by the police without due court proceeds over the last few days. The Addis Abeba city police on its part said it was conducting a crackdown on rising crimes in the city and that it was releasing those who are detained without committing crimes. It also dismissed as false social media campaigns of a “mass arrest” of the youth in the city.
Several accounts indicate the arrests are random and are being conducted both by the federal army and the city’s police. The arrests have also stepped up over the last week following a demonstration by thousands of city residents to protest last week’s mob attack in Burayu town which left 26 civilians dead, and thousands displaced, according to authorities. Others put the number of causalities above 50.
“I was detained for two days along with 43 others on Tuesday evening. We were taken a police compound near the Ghandi hospital,” said Fikremariam Abera, 28. Fikremariam works at a small garage near the AU headquarters as car mechanic. “I was heading home after a long day at work when I was picked up by a federal police pickup car which was carrying 12 others,” he told Addis Standard. At the police compound the exact location of which he didn’t specifically detailed, “we were kept for the first night without explanations. The next day two police officers started to ask us questions on whether or not we participated in planning a second demonstration on Wednesday,” a visibly upset Fikremariam said. According to him all of them were released on Friday morning. Several pictures released on social media purportedly show large groups of people held in various detention facilities.
An eyewitness account by Omna Mugisha Taddele, a freelance sports journalist, describes his personal experience of learning about the arrest of Ephrem, a young man working to fix and repair satellite dishes, and his friend. Other posts on Facebook also reveal similar random arrests.
Social media activists are convinced that the crackdown targets supporters of the recently returned Patriotic Ginbot 7 party. This came after the arrest of Birhanu Tekleyared and Mekonnen Legesse, two members of the PG7 welcoming organizing committee. The two have appeared in court on September 21. The police have accused both of being behind recent disturbances in the city and its environs, charges both deny. They have also accused the police of denying them their basic rights, such as food, while in its custody. Both remained in custody as of now.
In a Facebook statement he released late last night, PG7 senior official Neamin Zeleke said they have discussed with intelligence officials about the arrest of their members and many others in the city. Neamin said he was concerned about the incident and that PG7 will release official statement soon.
In a statement sent to Addis Standard, Neamin said that the latest sad developments in Ethiopia were “being exploited by anti-reform and change elements and forces to derail the process of reform towards the genuine democratization of Ethiopia.”
Neamin’s statement comes in the midst of repeated cyber accusations against PG7 itself that its members were behind the violence. “All well meaning Ethiopians in the country and diaspora must act responsibility giving primacy to peace, stability, and the harmony among all ethnic groups,” Neamin said, adding that “both ethno national and multinational political forces must commit and strive towards civil and democratic discourse to address their respective views.”
The city police remained silent throughout the last few days and a repeated attempt by Addis Standard and other journalists for confirmation went unanswered. It also remains unclear if the city police was organizing these arrests with the federal army. This morning, speaking to Sheger FM radio, the city police commission indoctrination and public relations head commander Fasika Fenta dismissed social media allegations of a “mass arrest” but defended the police were conducting a crackdown on rising crime rate in the city. According to the commander several people were detained in connection with a rising hit and run robbery and other crimes. He also said the police was responding to community tips and complaints. The commander did not provide the number of detainees but said they were “many” who are arrested after community tips and being caught red-handed while committing crimes. Those who were detained without committing crimes were being released immediately, he told Sheger FM.
Addis Standard is receiving unconfirmed information from several readers that similar crackdowns are happening in cities outside of the capital. Shashemene and Assella in Oromia regional state are among the many. Our attempts to confirm the information with police in both cities were to no avail. In Addis Abeba, several residents took to social media to express their frustrations on what many say were a broken promise by PM Abiy Ahmed, who pledged to end the police’s conduct of “arrest first and investigate later.”
The police commissioner and the Deputy Major need to call a press conference and explain what these arrests are about. What these youngsters are suspected of and why. PM Abiy and Takele Uma promised accountability and transparency. This is the time to show it!
— Blèna (@BlenaSahilu) September 23, 2018
Through the month of August, the city’s police have been conducting several crackdowns on criminal activities including rob-and run crimes on motorbikes. On August 31 the police have arrested 108 individuals suspected of various criminal activities. This was followed by two days raid on parallel currency market shops in the city. On August 17 the city’s police commission said it has seized 1051 pistols and some 4038 ammunition were inside the fuel track tanker & an Isuzu truck. The police & officials of National Intelligence & security service acted after community tip offs. The fire arms were seized in Kolfe Keranio area. Three suspects are under police custody being investigated, according to the police.
However, there is also an increase in nighttime random raids on bars, nightclubs, Shisha houses and strip clubs, according to some eyewitness. The crackdown increased in the days following last week’s demonstration in the city. Commander Fasika also admitted that groups of people were detained in Chat (Khat) & gambling houses while plotting to incite unrest.
Lots of random arrests, including from the diaspora community this week in Addis. Police randomly came and mass arrested patrons of Vanquesh, XO clubs and members of Hasset Acoustic Band. Many have since been released. @dendeshaw
— Samuel Getachew (@GetachewSS) September 20, 2018
Five people were killed by the police during a citywide demonstration last week on Monday which was organized by online activists and was held to denounce the killings in Burayu. There hasn’t been detailed information given by the police on the circumstances of the killing other than a short statement given by Zeynu Jemal, commissioner general of the federal police commission saying organized groups have attempted to take advantage of the peaceful demonstration. Amnesty International has demanded the government to conduct immediate investigations of the killing.
After this news was posted, the Addis Abeba police commission commissioner, major General Degefe Bede gave a presser. According to him 28 people were killed in Addis Abeba alone due to the violence in the city following flag confrontations between city youth and youths who came from Oromia regional state during the welcoming ceremony of OLF’s homecoming. The victims were killed either by stoning, stabbing and beating in a span of three days. Seven people were killed by the police itself, of whom, according to the commissioner, only one was killed by negligence of a police officer, who is now arrested.
police commission says 1, 200 youths are currently held in Tolay Military camp; 174 will be under the “protection of the law” potentially facing charges. It also said 1,459 are detained from Shisha houses operating illegally in the capital. Thirty one people were detained from “gambling houses” while a further 94 are detained from Chat/khat houses illegally functioning in the city. AS
Cover Picture: Demonstrators marching through Piassa on Monday last week to denounce the killings in Burayu.