Addis Abeba — At least four people, including one member of the Oromia police force, were killed and eleven others were injured on Sunday February 11 after federal security forces opened fire at a camp sheltering thousands of civilians in Hamaressa, a small town near the city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia, according to state broadcaster EBC. The camp is a sheltering thousands of Ethiopians who were internally displaced following the recent violence in Ethio-Somali border towns. One of the four is a woman.
The incident happened at the same time when the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) is preparing to celebrate the 6th "Defense week" as of Wednesday this week.
According to a nurse in Jagol Hospital, in Harar, where some of the injured are being treated, the incident occurred when hundreds of the displaced began protesting against poor provisions of accommodations inside the camp and their delayed resettlement. Quoting a family member of one of the injured, the nurse who spoke to Addis Standard by phone and wanted to remain anonymous, said that the protests "began on Saturday afternoon,. But there was no problem until Sunday." He added that among the injured "some of them have been shot from a close range." The nurse couldn't confirm the exact number of causalities and Addis Standard's attempts to reach out to authorities and the police in the city of Harar were to no avail as of now. Several graphic pictures taken from the scene were seen making rounds on Ethiopian social media spheres yesterday and today.
A relative calm has returned to the area today and federal security forces have been deployed in various posts near the city of Harar and its surroundings.
This is the second time that civilians were killed by federal security forces within the last three months only. In December 2017, at least 15 civilians were civilians killed by members of the security forces in Chelenko town, Meta woreda in east Haraghe zone of the oromia regional state. More than a dozen were also wounded, many of whom critically. So far, no one is held accountable.
Stay at home boycott
In another development, a three day stay at home market and business boycott called by online activities have started as of this morning. As the stay-at home boycotts gained momentum, the state broadcaster EBC confirmed transport and businesses were closed in Ambo, Jimma, Bale Robe cities as well as in Wolega.
According to a senior security and intelligence official in Shashemene city, 250 km south west of Addis Abeba, "business and civil service offices in most part of the city and its surroundings have been closed today." Speaking to Addis Standard by phone, the official said there were no major security problems so far. Schools are also closing and are sending students home." There was also a protest rally in the town which came to an end with no security incident, according to him. However, he said he was not sure if the boycotts would continue for three days. "The city police are on stand by to protect civilians in case of security problems," he said.
Protests were also held in Ambo, 125 km west of Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa, 445 km in the eastern part of Ethiopia and not far from the city of Harar, as well as in Nekepte, Wolega in western Ethiopia among other cities.
The online organizers have said in various Facebook and Twitter posts that they were organizing the boycotts to demand the release of political prisoners including Bekele Gerba, first secretary general of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and others jailed with him.
In an unexpected decision this morning, the attorney general's office told state affiliated FanaBC that it was discontinuing terrorism and criminal charges against seven individuals, including Bekele Gerba, Gurmessa Ayano, Addisu Bulala and Dejene Tafa, high profile opposition defendants from OFC. All the four were recently sentenced to 12 months in prison for contempt of court. The other three defendants are: 8th defendant Getu Girma Tolossa, 11th defendant, Beyene Ruda Jedu, & 12th defendant Tesfaye Liben Tolossa, all from the same file as Bekele Gerba.
However, FanaBc said the decision by the attorney general was yet to be approved by the federal board of pardon & signed off by President Mulatu Teshome. It also mentioned that the contempt of court charges against the four defendants, an indication that the discontinuation of the charges may not include the 12 months sentence for contempt of court.