Law & Justice

News: As Jawar continue hunger strike Oromia region sees multiple protests demanding their release, justice for slain artist Hachalu

Protesters in Geedoo, central Oromia. Photo: Dabessa Gemelal

By Mahlet Fasil @mahletfasil and

Siyanne Mekonnen @siyaanne 

Addis Abeba, February 08/2021 – Protests broke out in different parts of Oromia regional state since February 5, 2021. Protestors who took to the streets in Ambo last Friday raised several demands, including the release of Oromo politicians including Jawar Mohammad, Bekele Gerba and Hamza Borana of the opposition Oromo federalist Congress (OFC), a resident of the city told Addis standard.  Many students were arrested and beaten by police according to eyewitnesses. Addis standard contacted Ambo city police who declined to comment.

It comes in the heels of continued hunger strike by defendants in Jawar’s file which started on January 27. 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.”

Jawar and the other defendants with him went to a hunger strike to protest against the arrest of some 80 supporters and family members from federal court premises during a key hearing the previous day. They demanded their release as well as respect for the right of their family members to attend the court hearing without police harassment mistreatment of their supporters and family members when they come to attend their hearing. In addition, the defendants also demanded the change of prison cell for Colonel Gemechu Ayana, Executive Council member the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), who remains in federal prison after he was repeatedly granted bail by a federal court and despite the discontinuation of the changes against him by Oromia prosecutors.

Quoting the Kality prison administration, EHRC said that “prisoners are regularly moved from one holding area (zone) to another and that there are other prisoners in the same area (zone) as Colonel Gemechu. During the visit, the Commission found one prisoner who had indicated being moved to the area (zone) for breaking prison rules.

Kaliti Prison Administration was preparing to move Colonel Gemechu Ayana to another holding area following EHRC’s recommendations in this regard, when the Federal High Court at a hearing on February 3, 2021, ordered for the prisoner to be returned to Kilinto noting that the prisoner’s transfer to Kaliti did not follow due process. The Commission has confirmed the transfer by visiting the prisoner on February 4, 2021, according to EHRC.

Since Friday February 05, protests are being held mostly by by high school students in different cities in Oromia, including Ambo and Dire Dawa. Today the protests spread to cities including Woliso, Yabbelo, Gimbii, Nekemte, Dembi Dolo, Shashamane, and Asebot demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to political instability in Oromia region. However, the protesters were met with excessive use of force that has resulted in unconfirmed number of injuries and one confirmed death.

A high school student in Asebot told Addis standard that the protests started in the morning today by high school  students and were later on joined by the community. The release of political prisoners was the main demand made by protestors in Asebot before it was dispersed by the police leading to the arrest of many, according to him.

Similarly, another protest that took place in Gimbii by Gimbi secondary high school students demanded justice for Hachalu Hundessa, a prominenet Oromo artist who was assassinated on June 29 last year, and the release of political prisoners; they have also carried banners asking an end to extrajudicial killings in Oromia. The organizers of the protest along with some teachers were arrested, according to a resident of the city who spoke with Addis Standard on the phone on conditions of anonymity.

The protest in Yabello, Borana zone has resulted in the killing by security forces of one of the protesting students. Ethiopian Human Rights Coalition identified the student as university student Dika Debaso. “The protest took place from 6 AM in the morning till 2 PM,” said a high school student who also attended the protest. He said that about four people were also shot and seriously injured; they were referred to Wolaita Sodo hospital, he said. There are many students who were beaten at the protest and are still going to local clinics according to him. Addis Standards attempts to reach authorities at the administration were unsuccessful. AS

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