Ethiopia’s government illegally
detained at least 5,000 members of the country’s most populous
ethnic group, the Oromo, over the past four years as it seeks to
crush political dissent, Amnesty International said.
Victims include politicians, students, singers and civil
servants, sometimes only for wearing Oromo traditional dress, or
for holding influential positions within the community, the
London-based advocacy group said in a report today. Most people
were detained without charge, some for years, with many tortured
and dozens killed, it said.
“The Ethiopian government’s relentless crackdown on real
or imagined dissent among the Oromo is sweeping in its scale and
often shocking in its brutality,” Claire Beston, the group’s
Ethiopia researcher, said in a statement. “This is apparently
intended to warn, control or silence all signs of ‘political
disobedience’ in the region.”
The Oromo make up 34 percent of Ethiopia’s 96.6 million
population, according to the CIA World Factbook. Most of the
ethnic group lives in the central Oromia Regional State, which
surrounds Addis Ababa, the capital. Thousands of Oromo have been
arrested at protests, including demonstrations this year against
what was seen as a plan to annex Oromo land by expanding Addis
Ababa’s city limits.
Muslims demonstrating about alleged government interference
in religious affairs were also detained in 2012 and 2013,
Amnesty said in the report, titled: ‘Because I am Oromo’ –
Sweeping Repression in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.
The state-run Oromia Justice Bureau said the findings were
“far from the truth” in a reply to Amnesty included in the
report. “No single individual has been and would not be
subjected to any form of harassment, arrest or detention,
torture for exercising the freedom of expression or opinion.”
The majority of detainees are accused of supporting the
Oromo Liberation Front, which was formed in 1973 to fight for
self-determination, according to Amnesty.
Senior Oromo politicians Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa
were jailed in 2012 for working with the group, which was
classified as a terrorist organization by lawmakers in 2011.
“The accusation of OLF support has often been used as a
pretext to silence individuals openly exercising dissenting
behavior,” Amnesty said.
The bulk of Amnesty’s information came from interviews with
176 refugees in Kenya, Somalia and Uganda in July this year and
July 2013. More than 40 telephone and e-mail conversations were
also conducted with people in Ethiopia, it said.
Some interviewees said they fled the country because of
conditions placed on them when released, such as being told to
avoid activism, meeting in small groups, or associating with
relatives who were political dissenters, the report said.
Amnesty has been banned from Ethiopia since 2011 when its
staff was deported.
To contact the reporter on this story:
William Davison in Addis Ababa at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Antony Sguazzin at
Paul Richardson, Karl Maier