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News: Unlawful arrests reminiscent of Ethiopia’s unchanged politics: OLF Chairman

Abdi Regassa is one of the ex-rebels who returned to Ethiopia in 2018 and subsequently became a member of OLF’s Executive Committee. Picture: Social media

Zecharias Zelalem

Addis Abeba, March 06/2020 – The Chairman of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Dawud Ibssa, has told Addis Standard that he was deeply disappointed with the security forces’ recent arrests of nine OLF party members and leaders. The group were rounded up on 29 February from a gathering at a house in Addis Abeba.

While eight of the group were released the next day, one of them, Abdi Regassa, former Commander of Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) who is one of the ex-rebels who returned to Ethiopia in 2018 and subsequently became a member of OLF’s Executive Committee, remains in prison, and the police are denying that he is even in their custody.

“These arrests are unlawful,” said the OLF’s Chairman, whose party hopes to participate in this year’s Ethiopian Elections scheduled for August 2020. “These are our leaders and they’ve broken no laws. Abdi Regassa remains a political prisoner.”

OLF party members who were arrested and released include Mikael Gobena, Dr. Shugit Geleta, Kenessa Ayana, Muhe Raya, Tesfaye Meko, Selemon Teshome, Gamtessa Boru and Abdulkarim Abdurehaman. According to an OLF press statement released on March 04, all of them were handcuffed, shackled together, kept waiting for a lengthy period of time in the rain before being transported to a police station. The press release also revealed that the homes of the nine were ransacked by police officers on the morning of March 1st, after detaining the individuals.

“Security forces broke into the homes of these nine members and searched their houses,” reads part of the statement sent to Addis Standard by the OLF’s youth wing head, Lammi Begna. “Note that the police had neither legal authority nor a court warrant to search these homes or to arrest any of them.”

The government’s refusal to account for the whereabouts of Abdi Regassa has prompted Amnesty International to appeal for his release.

OLF Chairman Dawud Ibssa. Photo: Archive

“Abdi Regassa’s family and lawyers have spent the last couple of days frantically searching police stations and detention centers across Addis Abeba in an attempt to locate him,” Seif Magango, the organization’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great lakes said in Amnesty’s communique.

The OLF, founded in the the seventies, has among its stated aims the safeguarding of the rights and dignity of the Oromo people. Engaged in armed struggle for most of the time since its establishment, it was among a number of formerly exiled and outlawed political organizations that were invited to return and participate in Ethiopia’s political process in 2018. The then newly appointed Prime Minister was globally lauded for his reforms that decriminalized armed political groups including OLF.

The OLF has since gained a legal recognition as a political party in Ethiopia. But in recent months, hundreds of its supporters and party members have been arrested, often whilst on the campaign trail. On February 19, OLF released dozens of names of its supporters and members who are in police custody.

“The tactics being used against our staff and supporters are reminiscent of the sort of tactics employed by the [EPRDF] led government for 27 years,” Dawud Ibssa said by phone from his office.

According to him, police took away the cellphones, passports, driver’s licenses and even the watches of the nine detained individuals. When the group probed police about getting their items back, they were told “ask our superiors.”

“We are disappointed with the manner in which the government is conducting itself in the run up to the elections,” Dawud said, noticeably dejected. “Our members are second guessing the legitimacy of the process. But we take comfort in the solidarity expressed by members of various other parties representing constituencies in the Oromia, Amhara and other regions. These members have personally reached out to express their sadness at the arrest of our people who were merely practicing their democratic rights.”

In a press briefing held on March 04 at the OLF’s headquarter in Gullele, Addis Abeba, the party’s leaders described the “harassment and intimidation” they are facing today as “unprecedented” in the history of the party since its inception. They also warned that if appropriate measures were not taken on time, “it could ignite a political fire which will be hard to put off.” AS

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