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Analysis: Intensified arrests in Arsi zones, Oromia region under pretext of connections with OLA; civil servants, OFC members among jailed

By Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa

Addis Abeba – A wave of arrests swept over Arsi and West Arsi zones of the Oromia region, residents said.  Families of detainees who spoke to Addis Standard complained of intensified arrests of civilians under the pretext of having connections with the Oromo Liberation Army(OLA). Several residents of the localities said that their loved ones are arrested, kept in prison without charge and due process of law.

Gamedi Wabi, a teacher at secondary school in  Nagelle-Borana, was arrested at the funeral of popular elder Haji Hassen Gammeda’s funeral in Shashemene. Gamedi’s sister, Zeyituna told Addis Standard, “He was arrested while attending a funeral two months ago.”  

When asked for an explanation  for the reasons behind his arrest the police told the family, “We don’t know why he was arrested. He is kept here by security, we cannot release him. It is the security forces who arrested him and it is them who can release him as well. ” According to her, Gamedi is not alone, there are 16 more people in Shashemene 08 Police station who are under similar arrest. She added “They were arrested for more than a month without question, investigation or court appearance. Then the prisoners pleaded to the police to be presented to court and appeared on May 6, 2022. ”

They were accused of having contact with Oromo Liberation Army(OLA), which the government refers to as “Shane” and is designated as a terrorist organization by Ethiopian parliament in May of last year. Zeyituna further explained, “I am aware many other civilians are arrested in Shashemene, Kuyyaraa and many other places under this pretext.”

Mo’ata Hussien and Abulakim Hussein are two brothers who have been detained in Shashemene 08 Police station since March. Their  brother Wabi told Addis Standard  they are charged of being “Having connection with terrorists” but the procecutors failed to provide substatintal evidence to the court.

He further explained that they had a court appearance after three appeals to the court to stand trial. “They appealed to the court three times to get the chance to stand trial. Then they started appearing in court. Now they are just getting a court appointment and there has been no resolution yet. ”

Speaking of their well-being, Wabi said, “I cannot talk to them, they forbid me from speaking with them. I can see them and give them food. I have worries that they might have been subjected to human right abuses.”

Another victim of the intensified arrest is Firomsa Fikadu, who was waiting for university  placement during his arrest. Recounting the condition of his arrest Firomsa told Addis Standard, “I was arrested on my way home to celebrate Eid with my family. I was traveling from Shashemene to Qoree district. The police removed me from the vehicle and detained me at the Qoree district police station. ”

Like many other detainees, Firomsa demanded an explanation for his arrest and the police told him, “You hold a view of overthrowing the government ”. Describing the situation in the Qoree district police, Firomsa said, “There were 11 detainees that had spent more than four months in the police station without any due process of law. Two weeks after my arrest we [12 of us ] went to court for the first time.” adding “The police have a signaling mechanism to identify the cause of detention. If the case is ‘Haala Yeroo’(current situation, commonly used to describe politically motivated arrests) one will be jailed no questions asked. Many people don’t know who arrested them and why. Visitors also fall victim to the arbitrary arrests under ‘Haala Yeroo’. Many who come to visit might not return home.”

The charge against Firomsa and others is no different than ‘Having connection with OlA’ . Firomsa was detained for more than three weeks and then released on bail, he told Addis Standard.

Umer Bonsamo is a resident of West Arsi zone Nansabo district. His son Abdulqadir was detained at the district police station six months ago. Umer told Addis Standard, “They brought terrorism charges against him. However the court set him free, but the local administration and police refused to release him.”

The charges against Abdulqadir change at each hearing according to his father. After being freed by the court of law Abdulqadir remained in detention and charged with “Conspiring to overthrow the government” along with three other people. Then the court granted 5000 ETB bail in April, despite this he was still detained. Abdulqadir’s recent charge ‘having connection with OLA’ along with 29 arrested from local areas under the same pre-text. Umer says he will not be able to  provide food and water for his son as the price is skyrocketing.

Residents say that mass arrests and tortures have increased in both zones following the declaration of anti-OLA campaign across Oromia. “It is as if a hidden  state of emergency is still being implemented in the districts, towns of Arsi and West Arsi zones,” Firomsa said.

Arrests without court order are being made in districts such as Heban, Adabba, Dodolaa and other places in the West Arsi zone, sources said. Similar acts are also being committed in districts like Munessa, Collee, Shirka and Bokojji, Aman Jarso, a resident of Munessa district, told Addis Standard. 

In these zones, people who do not support the government’s political views, youths who are not youth of the change(not supporters of the government), members and supporters of opposition parties are the most vulnerable to the current situation and are likely to get arrested. Many of these detainees have been tortured for months without trial and without any legal process.

The arrests didn’t spare members of one of the largest opposition parties, Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). More than 30 members of the party are in custody in West Arsi district alone, Dararo Duubee OFC West Arsi representative told the Addis Standard.  However, West Arsi zone administrator Ahimed Haji, denied that anyone was being arrested unlawfully, saying that those being arrested were only those who were “taking the mission of the enemy and working to disrupt the security of the people”. But when asked why the evidence showing this could not be presented in court, Ahimed said, “It has been presented against many prisoners and we are collecting evidence and presenting on the remaining prisoners”

Repeated Attempts by Addis Standard to reach the mayor of Shashamanne ,Wosho Kadir, as well as Deputy Head of the Oromia Bureau of Administration and Security Affairs, Colonel Abebe Geresu, were unsuccessful.

In an interview with, a state affiliated media earlier in May, Colonel Abbabaa Garasuu said that the crackdown on the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in nine zones of Oromia region has brought calm and peace to the people and the group will no longer be a security threat as before.

In March, the President of Oromia regional state Shimelis Abdissa told the members of regional council(Caffee) “In order to ruin the progress by the fighters we are preparing a guideline, after implementation we will see significant change in a few months,” adding “We will do whatever it takes and make sure our people live in peace. ”

The Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) said in a statement on May 13, 2022 that “297 civilians have been killed by government forces in Oromia alone in the past few months, many houses have been burnt down, people have been arrested without court orders, tortured, repressed and killed” and called for an end to such attacks. The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) also called for an international investigation into the mass atrocities in various parts of Oromia.

Similarly, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued a statement  on  22 May that several people had been arrested following the recent crackdown by federal and regional security forces on “organized rule of law”. Many prisoners are detained without court orders, many are not brought to court, those are denied access to family members, and a few are detained outside ordinary prisons and their families are unaware of their whereabouts “Such arrests that do not comply with basic human rights principles are unacceptable,” the commission said. AS

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