News: Many detained by the army as crackdown intensifies in various cities across Ethiopia, among them recently released politicians and journalists


Liyat Fekade

Addis Abeba,  March 26/2018 – In what appears to be a fresh round of crackdown by the army under the auspices of the command post implementing Ethiopia’s state of emergency, more than 30 people have been detained in various cities and towns during the weekend only.

Arrests of civilians were made here in the capital Addis Abeba, in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara regional state, and in cities in east and west Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state, among others. The detainees included university professors, former prisoners who were recently released, religious figures as well as local administrators.

Addis Abeba

Yesterday afternoon, the Addis Abeba city police, later on aided by members of the command post from the army, have detained 11 individuals from a lunch party organized by the mother of journalist Temesgen Desalegn to celebrate their release. Among the 11 detained are recently released prisoners: journalists Temesgen Desalegn, Zelalem Workagegnehu, and Eskendir Nega and opposition politicians Andualem Aragie and Woynishet Molla. The list also includes bloggers and rights activists Mahlet Fantahun and Befekadu Hailu of the zone9 blogging collective, as well as Yidnekachew Addis, Sintayehu Chekol, Addisu Getaneh and Tefera Tesfaye.

According to several eye witness accounts from individuals who were present at the lunch program, the police have showed up at the residence and began asking questions about the green, yellow and red flag on display, which didn’t have the pentagram emblem introduced in 1996.

The use of the plain green, yellow and red flag has been made a criminal act under the Flag Proclamation No. 654/2009 Article 23(1) & Article 24(2) punishable by up to one year and half imprisonment and/or 5000 birr fine.  Regardless, the flag is used among various sections of the society in connection with events and celebrations and has not triggered serious legal repercussions so far.

“The flag is displayed inside a private property during a private gathering. Why and how the police decided to show up and accuse the participants for displaying it is an indication that the lives of these individuals is under the watchful eyes of government spy agents even after they were released,” said an opposition politician who was at the event but escaped arrest “because I left early.” “This has nothing to with the flag but everything to do with the idea of these individuals, which included leading opposition figures such as Bekele Gerba, coming together,” he said while requesting Addis Standard to withhold his name.

The detainees were first taken to Lebu police station in Nifas Silk Lafto, Subcity, where they were questioned and were made to surrender their cell phones.  They were then transported to Gotera police station, where they spent the night and still remain held.

In addition to the issue of the flag, however, lawyer Amha Mekonnen told the AP that he  “…also understand they were accused of gathering en masse in violation of the state of emergency rule.”

Family members are waiting for news of their release today, but it is unclear what would come next. A police officer at the Gotera police station who refused to give his name told Addis Standard that journalists should “direct their questions to the secretariat of the command post.” “You are not allowed inside the premise here,” he said.

Bahir Dar

According to information posted by journalist Shiferaw Getachew, who was released after finishing his own prison term, more than a dozen civilians were arrested in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara regional state, on Sunday March 25. Among the them, Assistant professor Desalegn Chane of the Bahir Dar University, Temesgen Tessema, former Wello university lecturer-turned-lawyer, author Gashaw Mersha who is currently a practicing teacher in Addis Abeba, Belete Molla, associate professor at the philosophy department of the Addis Abeba university, journalist Nigatu Asres of the Amhara mass media agency and journalist Belete Kassa, former editorin-chief of ‘Kend’ newspaper.  The information was also corroborated by journalist Belay Manaye. Addis Standard is attempting to get in contact with family members.


The individuals are currently held at the ninth police station in Bahir Dar.

According to Dr. Wondwossen T., who is a friend of Dr. Desalegn Chane and Belete Molla, they have gathered together in Bahir Dar to prepare ways on forming a new political party.  “What makes this latest arrest tragic is the fact that it happened immediately after ANDM, [the party governing the regional state] said it was willing to work with opposition parties,” Dr. Wondwossen wrote in his Facebook page.

Among the detained individuals in Bahir Dar. Picture compiled by journalist Belay Manaye.

East and west Hararghe

According to an official at the city administration of the Babille Woreda, in east Hararghe zone of the Oromia regional state, Hamza Abdu, head of security in Babille Woreda was detained on Saturday “by members of the command post and is held at unknown location.”  Similarly, in Mieso town in west Hararghe, the head of the OPDO bureau, Musa Said, the city administrator of Habro town, Ahmed Junadi, as well as Abdi Abrasha, another OPDO official, were all detained over the weekend. In addition to politicians, the army also detained Sheik Ibrahim, the chief Imam of the Selam Mosque in Chiro twon, in west Hararghe. Reports from various residents in cities in east and west Hararghe who spoke to Addis Standard also indicate that over the past two weeks several government officials, including local administrators, judges and cities municipality officials have gone in hiding for fear of further crackdown.

It is to be recalled that since the first announcement by council of ministers on February 16 and the subsequent legislation by members of parliament on March 03 of the current controversial state of emergency,  members of the command have detained several government employees from the Oromia regional state including the chief administrator of the east Hararghe zone, the deputy police commissioner of the Oromia regional state, the deputy administrator of the east Wellega zone, the Mayor of Nekemt city and the head of the justice bureau of Kelem Wellega Woreda. On March 15, members of the command post have also detained Taye Dendea,  head of the bureau’s communication and PR department.  Taye is still in detention in Ma’ekelawi. The crackdown against the OPDO, the largest party constituting the ruling EPRDF, is happening at a time when party officials are celebrating the 28th year anniversary of the founding of the party. AS


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