The first mass arrest in the city since PM Abiy happend soon after this protest by city residents in September 2018. See details in the analysis below.

Hayalnesh Gezahegn

Addis Abeba, October 13/2019 – In what two eye witnesses near Addis Ketema preparatory school here in the capital Addis Abeba said was a “random arrest”, three young men were whisked away in an open pickup truck by five members of Addis Abeba police yesterday afternoon.

“We were on our way to Merkato [the largest open market in Africa] when the pickup truck skidded to a harsh halt past us. The police officers then jumped out of the car and began to take the three young men into the pickup truck. The scene was the scariest I have seen in my adult life,” Tizita, who only wanted to be named by her first name, told Addis Standard late Saturday night.

The arrest came shortly after the city police issued a statement late in the afternoon dismissing “as false the information being circulated on social media claiming that roads will be closed in connection with the rally.”

The rally the city police dismissed as non existent is an opposition rally that was under preparation for the last two weeks and was being organized by journalist and activist Eskinder Nega to protest against the “failed transition” under the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. It has been organized via online platforms such as social media as well as using media outlets supporting the journalist’s cause. A press briefing was also given by the organizers on Thursday October 10.

However, following Friday’s announcement by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to PM Abiy Ahmed, Addisu Arega, head of the secretariat of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), the party led by PM Abiy, posted in his Facebook page that a demonstration to celebrate the Prime Minister’s win was being planned for today, October 13, the same day the protest rally was planned by Eskinder and his Addis Abeba Care Taker Council (Balderas) at Mesqel Square in Addis Abeba.

Social media activists also say activist Nathnael Yalemzewd, was arrested for helping to organize Eskinder’s rally. Addis Standard cannot confirm the information yet.

In a statement Eskinder’s Balderas released late yesterday it said that the Council was forced to cancel its protest rally. “After it allowed the rally through its silence, based on the law, the Addis Abeba City Administration has issued a statement banning the rally,” the statement said. Based on that, and taking into account the “country’s peace” and the “security of its people” the Council was forced to cancel its rally.

It also said that “several” of its supporters were arrested from Addis Abeba but provided no names and actual numbers.

“The government’s illegal ban assures the derailment of democracy and justice. Accordingly, as was mentioned in the press release, the [Council] expresses that it will, through a step, be forced to take the peaceful struggle to the next step.”

Asked to comment on the arrests Addis Abeba police commission said it has no further information other than the statement the office released on its Facebook page yesterday afternoon.

“Road closed to intimidate Eskinder”

According to Zerihun Asemaw, a resident of Addis Abeba, the last minute announcement by the police denying the existence of a rally was part of “the government’s strategy to silence Eskinder’s rally and it was in play for the last three days.” Zerihun said that his mother was one of the hundreds of passagers who was first stranded and then forced to return to Gonder when the road connecting Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara regional state, with Addis Abeba was blocked for thrid day since October 11 in Goha Tsion area, near Abay Gorge. “The road was intentionally blocked by the youth from the area and later on by members of the Oromia regional state police claiming the buses were transporting Eskinder’s supporters to the rally,” Zerihun told Addis Standard. “There were students going to their university studies, patients, like my mother, coming to Addis Abeba seeking medical attention and citizens going about their business.”

Responding to Amhara Mass Media Agency, Oromia Police Commission public relations department denied the closure of the road, and said due to enhanced security checks, vehicles were delayed and some have returned back due to these delays.

Addis Standard’s repeated attempts yesterday afternoon to reach the public relations office of the Oromia Police Commission were to no avail.

Until the publication of this news, no official statement was issued both from Addis Abeba City Administration and Oromia Police Commission regarding the random arrest and the road blockade, respectively.

Tizita on her part says that she suspects the three young men scooped up by the police “in front of my eyes are most likely supporters of Eskinder Nega.”

Increasing frustration

The news adds up to an increasing frustration some residents of Addis Abeba are stocking against members of the city’s police commission due largely to what they see as the rise in police brutality.

In late August this year, two police officers were caught on camera brutality beating a young man and shoving an elderly woman, an incident which later on led to the commission to investigate the two officers and issue an apology.

Addis Abeba Police has had an increasingly rocky relation with residents of the city since September 2018 when the first mass arrest took place since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office in April of the same year. See our analysis here. Since then and in the midst of a rising crime rate in the city, the police have had several occasions where random searches were conducted on bars, strip clubs, Shisha houses, and other recreational places resulting in several occasions of mass random detentions, often unaccounted for. AS

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