9 July 2014

Ethiopia Admits Detaining Senior Opposition Leader, Conducts Fresh Crackdown Against Opposition Party Members

Photo: Amnesty International UK
Detained Ethiopian British opposition leader, Andargachew Tsige.

Ethiopia's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and Federal Police Joint Counter-terrorism Taskforce finally admitted it had detained Andargachew Tsige, second-in-command of Ginbot-7, an outlawed opposition party based in the US, since June 23.

According to a joint statement from the NISS and the taskforce, Andargachew was detained at Sena'a airport, Yemen, on June 23, while in transit to Eritrea and was extradited to Ethiopia on the same day.

The statement further said the Yemeni authorities have detained Andargachew at Sena'a airport following intelligence tip provided by Ethiopian security officials. NISS accused Andagrachew, a carrier of British passport, that he has been using several aliases, including Jen-Paul, James-Franci, Tufa, Derbaba, Robi and Wedi-Harena among others.

The statement also revealed, for the first time, that Abebe Wendmagegn, another British national of Ethiopian origin, and some of his collaborators were arrested, on Jan. 24th this year. It claimed the individuals were arrested while preparing to detonate a bomb around Bole-Medhanialem area, and that Abebe Wendmagegn was under the command of Andargachew Tsige.

Opposition crackdown:

In a related development, another massive crackdown against three opposition parties saw the arrest of four individuals from Semayawi party (Blue part), Arena-Tigray party and Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ/Andinet) party.

Ina rather vague admittance, the NISS statement said the police have arrested suspects who it claimed to have been part of legally registered opposition party groups but were working with Ginbot-7 and its "media affiliate" ESAT, a popular satellite TV broadcasting from abroad.

Although the statement failed to identify the identities of the four individuals who were detained yesterday, social media source reveal the identities as: Abraha Desta of Arena-Tigray, who is the party's executive members and prominent among Ethiopia's social media circle, Habtamu Ayalew and Daniel Shibeshi of UDJ/Andinet, and Yeshewas Assefa of Blue party.

In a rare but stern warning the statement further said neither being a journalist nor being a member of legally registered opposition party group; nor is carrying foreign passports are tantamount with immunity.

Recently, Abraha Desta wrote that eight people who are members of his party were detained by the police and were subsequently charged with terrorism. Another 115 members of the party were detained at several detention facilities in the northern part of Ethiopia, according to Abraha.

This latest crackdown follows another crackdown two and half months ago against a group of six bloggers writing for the blog site Zone9 and three independent journalists. Although they have appeared before court for more than four times, all of the nine bloggers and journalists are detained without charges.

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