OFC-ISG Press Release No. 4 | April 27, 2016
On April 22, 2016, federal Ethiopian prosecutors charged 22 individuals, including Mr. Bekele Gerba, First Secretary-General of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) with violations of various articles of Ethiopia’s notorious Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). The charges include – but are not limited to – alleged communication with the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), public incitement, encouraging violence, and causing the deaths of innocent civilians, as well as property destruction in cities such as Ambo and Adama during the recent protests in Oromia, Ethiopia. All prisoners were previously transferred from Makalawi to Qilinxu jail without any notice to their families or lawyers.
“When they arrived at Qilinxu prison, they were offered to take pills by prison administration which all the 22 prisoners refused,’’ according to Bekele Gerba’s daughter Bontu in an interview she gave to Oromia Media Network on April 23, 2016. ‘’Then the prison polices took 4 of the prisoners – Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, Addisu Bulala and Gurmessa Ayana – to a dark rooms and they are no more with the 18 others,’’ she added. ‘’We, family members, were no more able to visit them this weekend,’’ said Aynalem Debelo, the wife of the Deputy Secretary of OFC, Dejene Tafa. ‘’When we request their whereabouts and demand to visit them, the police has no answer. They told us to communicate the prison administrators who are not willing to talk to us,’’ they told Oromia Media Network.
Even when they were in Makelawi, prison conditions were harsh and dangerous. Bekele explained this in his own words in the court the following way:
“መታሰር ምንም ማለት አይደለም። አስሮ ሰብዓዊ መብትን መጣስ ግን የትም ሃገር የሌለ ነው። እንደ ኢትዬጵያ መንግስት ጨካኝ የለም።4 በ 5 በሆነች ቤት የምንኖረው 23 እስረኞች ሆነን ነው። እዛችው ቤት ውስጥ ለሽንት የምንጠቀምበት ባልዲ እና የሁላችንም ልብስይቀመጣል። ይህን ተቃውመን የረሃብ አድማ ብናደርግ ‘ከፈለጋችሁ መሞት ትችላላችሁ’ ነው የተባልነው። እኛም ለመሞት ዝግጁ ነን።”
በቀለ ገርባ, 18/03/16
“Imprisonment is not a big deal. Violating prisoners’ human rights is rare in the world. No one is cruel like the Ethiopian government. We share 4 meter x 5 meter with 23 prisoners. We put our clothes and a bucket for emergency in the same room. When we protested this by hunger strike, they told us, “You can die if you want to”. We too are ready to die”.
– Bekele Gerba, Deputy Chairperson of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), March 18, 2016 at his third remand hearing.
Mr. Gerba appealed to the court about the inhumane and degrading conditions in the prison cell, but to no avail. During his fourth appearance in court, on April 15, 2016, he showed his lawyer the rashes on his body resulting from insect bites, mainly bedbugs and fleas. Such detention conditions violate Article 18(1) of the Ethiopian Constitution, which reads: “Everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Mr. Gerba and others committed no crime, neither were they informed about all the charges against them. Above all, Mr. Gerba believes that only a peaceful and nonviolent struggle can guarantee real change and build a truly democratic society in Ethiopia. Mr. Gerba rejects violence and has stated as much in several interviews. He believes in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of non-violent political resistance and has translated one of Dr. King’s books into Oromo so as to better spread this message. The EPRDF government’s accusations of terrorism against these Oromo political leaders are baseless. Rather, these charges are being used to suppress the basic human rights of Oromos and other Ethiopian peoples who are struggling to bring democracy, freedom, and justice to Ethiopia. Such acts by Ethiopian government violate Articles 29, 30, and 31 of the Ethiopian Constitution, which guarantees the “Right of Thought, Opinion and Expression; The Right of Assembly, Demonstration and Petition and Freedom of Association.”
The Oromo Federalist Congress International Support Group (OFC-ISG) is saddened by the magnitude of charges brought against Mr. Gerba and other political prisoners. We would like our supporters, friends, and the world to know that these charges are false allegations. As stated by the Chairperson of the OFC-ISG, in an interview with Oromo TV, “What worries OFC-ISG most is the fate of that country. If such acts of absolute repression crush every peaceful movement and produce radicals, it is advantageous neither to Ethiopia, nor to the West. Therefore, we ask the international community to stand by our side and put pressure on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally free all Oromo political prisoners since the government has already taken accountability for the poor governance that ignited the Oromo protests in Oromia.”
The Oromo Federalist Congress International Support Group (OFC-ISG) is a non-profit organization established in 2010 with the mission to bring an end to the brutal oppression, injustice, and inequality with a view to advancing human rights, rule of law, good governance, protection of the environment, and sustainable development in Ethiopia by supporting the struggle of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) through advocacy, education, and financial contributions.