The Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali is turning Africa’s second most populous country into a dictatorship mess.
On January 27, 2020, Amnesty International condemned what it described as the return of mass arrests of opposition activists and supporters in Ethiopia, expressing shock and disappointment at a Prime Minister who had won the Nobel Peace Prize just months earlier because of his peace initiatives with neighboring Eritrea.
Amnesty confirmed that at least 75 supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were arrested over that weekend from various places in different parts of Oromia Regional State, as Ethiopian authorities intensified the crackdown on dissenting political views ahead of the general elections.
“These sweeping arrests risk undermining the rights to freedom of expression and association ahead of the 2020 elections,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
According to Amnesty, the arrests took place across the state including in Finchawa town in West Guji Zone of Oromia, and Shambu town in Horo-Guduru Wallaga Zone of Oromia.
Chaltu Takele, a prominent political activist was arrested when police broke into her parents’ home in Shambu town, Horo-Guduru Wellaga at 5 a.m. on 26 January and arrested her. She remained detained at the Shambu Police Station on Monday January 27.
Chaltu Takele had spent more than eight years in prison between 2008 and 2016 after being accused of being a member of the Oromo Liberation Front, which the Ethiopian government had listed as a “terrorist organization”.
The Ethiopian Parliament delisted OLF and other political opposition groups from being proscribed terrorist groups in 2018. Chaltu was also arrested and briefly detained in 2017, and again 2019 while she was pregnant.
Amnesty said those violent arrests were the latest in a long line of mass arrests of opposition activists.
It said the Ethiopian police and military have been rounding up people for “rehabilitation training” since February 2019. After spending time in various military and police detention centers, most were released between September and November 2019.
But Abiy Ahmed did not stop. Last Saturday, Amnesty International expressed anger and shock after police in Ethiopia launched another brutal attack on opposition party supporters in the Oromia Region, killing one person and arresting and injuring scores more.
Just hours after the date for Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections was announced, the Oromia Liyu police raided the inauguration of an Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) office in Welenchiti, firing live bullets and tear gas, killing one OLF supporter who was a clothes vendor.
Later that day, police arrested around 30 guests at a hotel launch party in Burayu and drove them to a sports stadium where they were beaten and humiliated for hours.
“These brazen attacks show just how dangerous it is becoming to assemble and express political stances in Ethiopia,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa, Seif Magango.
“Raids on opposition gatherings must not be allowed to become a feature of the pre-election period. The authorities must immediately launch an independent and effective investigation into these attacks and hold suspects to account in fair trials.”
Following the attack on the OLF office in Welenchiti, the regional Liyu police beat up the gathered supporters and pursued those who fled, hitting them with sticks. They also immobilized a parked vehicle belonging to a local news crew, from the Oromia News Network (ONN), by shooting its tyres, then later moving it to a local police station with the journalists’ filming equipment still inside.
The second attack by the Liyu Police took place later the same day at the launch of a new hotel in Burayu. Police descended on the guests as the party was winding down, bundled about 30 of them into a police van and drove them to the Burayu Stadium.
There detainees were beaten again, forced to do laps around the stadium on their knees and roll on the ground late into the night.
Hawi Haile Yesus Keneni, a female musician, was among those seriously beaten up in Burayu, sustaining injuries that require surgery. She told Amnesty International that members of the Oromia Liyu Police in green uniforms beat her on the head, hands and other parts of her body.
While the Burayu town administration has, on their Facebook page, dismissed the violence as a “brawl that broke out over a disagreement about the choice of song”, victims and witnesses told Amnesty International the party was over by the time the police arrived. One of the artists said he heard the commanding police officer at the scene accuse the detainees of being OLF supporters.
“It is outrageous that the authorities charged with ensuring the security and safety of members of the public can brutally attack people going about their business with no regard for human life. The Ethiopian authorities must denounce these attacks in the strongest terms and ensure such scenes are not repeated,” said Seif Magango.
The country’s parliamentary elections are due to be held on 29 August 2020.
With Abiy turning Ethiopia into a violent dictatorship, it now appears that winning a Nobel Peace Prize is looking more and more meaningless in Ethiopia.
Simon Ateba is the publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington DC