News: Security forces arrest several senior gov’t officials, youth, activists in Gurage zone following intensified crackdown on dissent

Taje Demeke, former chairwoman of the Gurage Zone Council and others arrested in the recent crackdown (Pictures: Social Media)

By Biruk Alemu @Birukalemu21

Addis Abeba – Residents of the restive Gurage zone in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) told Addis Standard that security forces have intensified arrests including on senior government officials, the youth and activists since Tuesday.

Menur Reshid, member of Gurage Zone Council, Taje Demeke, former chairwoman of the Zone’s Council, Asrat Tadele, Head of Urban Trade and Enterprise, Sefa Jamal, Head of Revenue Office of Wolkite City, Mulugeta Fikade, Head of Security of Addis Sub-city of Wolkite City, Fikre Azata, head of the regional industrial center, and Tesfaye Minuta, the director of Wolkite University’s registrar directorate are among government officials who were arrested in Wolkite by the SNNPR special forces and the federal police, a resident of Wolkite who did not wish to be named, told Addis Standard.

In addition, leadership of the Gurage Media Network Beyene Wolde and Zermaw Yitbarek and lawyer and legal advisor Jember Abdo have also been arrested in Addis Abeba.

The resident said that more than 15 community leaders and youths are in prison, adding that “they were arrested because they peacefully struggled for the rights of the Gurage people”.

According to the resident, the arrests have been going on since Tuesday and security forces broke into the homes of the individuals at around 3:00 am without any warrant and arrested them.

Residents of the zone have long complained against heavy-handed measures by regional and federal security forces to contain their continued protests against government-backed clustering of the zone into a new region together with four other zones and a special district. The Gurage Zone Council had from the get go opposed to the restructuring as it was seeking its own regional state status, which it tabled as far back as November 2018.

On 15 February, security forces killed six people in Wolkite city, while more than 15 were seriously injured after security forces opened fire on protesters who were demonstrating against lack of fresh water, carrying empty jerry cans.

Following the killings, public and business activities were halted for a week in protest against security forces’ crackdown on civilians, and later resumed after the mayor of Wolkite promised residents to carry out deployment of the SNNPR special forces out of the city.

The resident who spoke to Addis Standard about the ongoing arrest on conditions of anonymity however said, the SNNPR special forces are still operating in Wolkite wearing federal police uniforms.  

Another resident of the city, Seid, (whose name has been changed for his safety), said that some of the arrested people were severely beaten by the security forces, adding that security forces are currently hunting to arrest more people.

According to Seid, Taje Demeke, who was the chairman of the Gurage Zone Council, and dismissed for rejecting the clustering of the zone into a new region, is seven months pregnant, and detained illegally.

Seid said the government has been unwilling to answer the demands of the Gurage people peacefully, but instead threatens them leading ongoing confrontations for four years.

The Gurage zone, including its capital Wolkite city, has been under a command post since November last year following consecutive stay-at-home protests as part of the zone’s push for its own statehood. AS

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