By Siyanne Mekonnen @Siyaanne
Addis Abeba, April 8, 2021 – Ten staffers of Jimma university were arrested this weekend on the grounds of attempting a coup and supporting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Eight of the lecturers were arrested on April 2, 2021 while the remaining two were arrested on April 4th and 5th according to lawyer Obsinan Grima. The team of jimma university staffers including administrators such as the dean, deputy dean of students, academics such as the former vice president of the university as well as lecturers including an associate professor at the department of Surgery made their first appearance in court on April 5, 2021.
The case of the ten Jimma University staffers was presented to the court in one file. They were accused of a coup attempt, organizing people in and around Jimma city against the government and providing financial assistance to the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
Birtukan Edilu,the wife of Adulaa Bekele (PhD) who served as the vice president of Jimma University for two years told Addis Standard that her husband’s arrest was unexpected but the accusations against him and his colleagues came as a shock. According to Birtukan, also a lecturer at JImma University, her husband was removed from his post in October last year. She said, “The reason for his removal was not specified but he continued teaching at the university until the day of his arrest.” Birtukan added, “Adulaa has never been involved in political activities. The only weapons he knows how to use are books. I have never seen him do anything against the government.”.
At the hearing, Oromia police asked the court for 14 days to remand and investigate the ten academics. The police stated that the accused were engaged in the alleged activities over the course of 2020 and 2021. The court granted 10 days to the police and adjourned the hearing until April 15, 2021. Birtukan recalled that the police searched their house and arrested her husband without a search warrant. She later learned that her colleagues were arrested in the days following her husband’s arrest. “I don’t understand why respected scholars are being gathered in jail,” she said, asking, “Aren’t they fulfilling the government’s goal by doing their jobs?” Birtukan explained that explanations she received from the university about the arrest of her colleagues was ‘an order from above’ without being provided with specifics and that she is waiting for the next court hearing, hoping her husband will be set free.
Earlier this year, Jimma university experienced the imprisonment of its staff members and a graduate Mohammed Deksiso. Mohammed was arrested alongside Mulugeta Shitee and University staffer Wondimu Legesse Abba Dafar (PhD) on February 14 shortly after Mohammed called out ‘Free Jawar Mohammed, Justice for Hachalu Hundessa’ at a graduation ceremony of Jimma University. The three were accused of ‘inciting violence and being affiliated with an armed group’.
On February 23, Jimma city district court granted 2000 ETB bail for each and closed the file for lack of sufficient evidence. However, they were instead transferred to ‘woerda 02’ police station where the court orders were not addressed to. On March 1, 2021, they faced new accusations for alleged involvement in a grenade attack which took place in October 2020 in Jimma city. The court granted the police 10 days to remand and investigate the three and adjourned the hearing until March 11, 2021. On that day, the police again asked for 14 more days but the court instead granted them five days to complete the investigation. On March 16, 2021 the court decided to release them on their own recognizance. However, the police refused to release them citing ‘orders from above’ as a reason. Later on March 19, 2021 Wondimu Legesse Abba Dafar (PhD) was released but Mohammed and Mulugeta remained under custody until April 1, 2021 when the police at woreda 02 issued a surety bail for Mohammed and Mulugeta.
While Mulugeta was released on that day, Mohammed was taken by what was described as men dressed in civilian clothes after the paperwork was processed and he was walking to rejoin his friends who were waiting for him outside. Mohammed’s brother Sultan Deksiso told Addis Standard, “He was taken by a car carrying plate numbers of Oromia Special forces who drove him first to Jimma university premises then later to the Federal police camp in the city but we could not find him there.” Sultan added, “I don’t know his whereabouts. When we asked the woreda 02 police station they responded by saying that they have already released him.”
Bedhasa Lemmesa, from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) corroborated Sultan’s testimony and told Addis Standard, “The last time I checked Mohammed was taken to camp of the South Western Division of the Federal police in Jimma city.” The EHRC has been following the case of Mohammed Deksiso and has repeatedly called for his release.
When Addis Standard contacted Wondimu Legesse, senior director of communication and external affairs who himself was subject to arrest told Addis Standard, “I have no information on the matter and you should contact the president of the university” However, Addis Standard repeated attempts to reach the president of Jimma University were not successful. AS