ADDIS ABABA - Amnesty International has issued a new report claiming that the Ethiopian government is systematically repressing the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
Amnesty International says Ethiopia’s ethnic Oromo are subject to arbitrary arrest, detentions without access to lawyers, repeated torture and even targeted killings to crush dissident.
Claire Beston is the Ethiopia researcher for Amnesty International. She says the East African country is hostile to any kind of dissent but particularly fears the Oromo for a number of reasons.
“Including the numerical size of the Oromo because they’re the largest ethnic group; a strong sense of national identity amongst the Oromo; and also kind of history of perceived anti-government sentiment," said Beston.
Oromia is the largest state within Ethiopia and about 35% of the population is considered to be ethnically Oromo.
Oromo students protested in April and May against the capital city’s restructuring plan - which they said would dilute Oromo culture through annexing traditional Oromo land surrounding Addis Ababa. The rare protests led to violence. Several dozen people were killed and hundreds arrested. Peaceful Oromo Muslim protests in 2012 and 2013 were also crushed with force and mass arrests.
Beston says Oromo students and protestors are not the only ones who are at risk in Ethiopia.
“We’re talking about hundreds of people from ordinary people from all walks of life including teachers and mid-wives, and even government employees, singers and a range of other professions who’re all arrested just on the suspicion that they don’t support the government," said Beston.
Amnesty International has not been allowed into Ethiopia since 2011. Researchers based the report’s findings on several hundred interviews with Oromo refugees outside Ethiopia and telephone and email conversations with Oromo inside the country. Many of the respondents said they had been detained in prisons, police stations, military camps or unofficial detention centers where they were subjected to repeated torture.
Amnesty has concluded at least 5,000 Oromo have been arrested and detained since 2011, many for weeks or months without being charged. The report says they are usually accused of supporting or being members in the outlawed armed group, the Oromo Liberation Front. The OLF has been fighting for self-determination for more than 40 years. The report claims this is just a pretext for silencing dissent.
In response to Amnesty, the government - through the state-run Oromia Justice Bureau - says there is no clear evidence of violations as claimed by Amnesty and calls the allegations “untrue and far from the reality”.
Beston says repression throughout the country, and particularly against the Oromo, is likely to increase as the May 2015 elections approach.