Amnesty International said it has confirmed that at least 75 supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) were arrested over the weekend from various places in different parts of Oromia Regional State, as Ethiopian authorities intensify the crackdown on dissenting political views ahead of the general elections.
"The return of mass arrests of opposition activists and supporters is a worrying signal in Ethiopia. These sweeping arrests risk undermining the rights to freedom of expression and association ahead of the 2020 elections," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa.
In a statement sent to the media, Amnesty International said that the arrests took place across the state including in Finchawa town in West Guji Zone of Oromia, and Shambu town in Horo-Guduru Wallaga Zone of Oromia.
The news comes a few days after the UN reported about the displacements of hundreds of civilians from Guji zone, Oromia regional state, following fighting between what the it called "unidentified armed groups (UAG) and government security forces."
#Ethiopia: AS confirmed that Chaltu Takele, who was one of hundreds of prisoners released in Feb. 2018, is re-arrested in #Shambu, #Wollega, western #Oromia, today. She was detained from her parent's house. As per sources, at least 5 other individuals were also arrested with her pic.twitter.com/HpTedjTVRP - Addis Standard (@addisstandard) January 8, 2019
Amnesty's statement also confirmed that among those arrested was Chaltu Takele, a prominent political activist. "Police broke into her parents' home in Shambu town, Horo-Guduru Wellaga at 5am on 26 January and arrested her. She is detained at the Shambu Police Station," the statement said.
Chaltu Takele spent more than eight years in prison between 2008 and 2016 after being accused of being a member of the Oromo Liberation Front, which the Ethiopian government had listed as a "terrorist organization". The Ethiopian Parliament delisted OLF and other political opposition groups from being proscribed terrorist groups in 2018. Chaltu was also arrested and briefly detained in 2017, and again 2019 while she was pregnant.
On Saturday January 25, Lemmi Beyan, a senior member of OLF posted in his Facebook page that 59 people were killed in a fresh military assault in Qellem Wollega, western Oromia, on Friday January 24. Lemmi listed the names of 14 people who were killed in the attacks about which the government remained tight-lipped.
A twitter page purportedly run by members of Oromo Liberation Army, an armed breakaway outfit of OLF, said on Friday that "military engagement continues especially in Gujjii (south Oromia) and Qellem Wallagga (west Oromia)" and that "Oromia Special Forces have mostly withdrawn from frontlines after sustaining heavy casualties.
1) Military engagement continues especially in Gujjii (south Oromia) and Qellem Wallagga (west Oromia).
2) Oromia Special Forces have mostly withdrawn from frontlines after sustaining heavy casualties - Oromo Liberation Army (Central Command) (@OLA_Command) January 24, 2020
Amnesty's statement did not mention the presence of armed conflict in western Oromia, but said the weekend arrests were "the latest in a long line of mass arrests of opposition activists. The Ethiopian police and military have been rounding up people for "rehabilitation training" since February 2019," it said, adding "after spending time in various military and police detention centers, most were released between September and November 2019."
#Ethiopia: Amidst continuous silence from local & federal gov't on the whereabouts & safety of 17 #DembiDollo univ students,13 of whom female, who were abducted & are missing for more than 50 days,families live in agony as social media campaign intensified https://t.co/x1UzBWyuAZ - Addis Standard (@addisstandard) January 27, 2020
Today's statement by Amnesty also came in the heels of an unsolved tragedy after dozens of university from Dembi Dollo university in QellemWollega went missing after having been abducted nearly two months ago. (Please read out analysis here). Late this afternoon, Amhara Mass Media Agency (AMMA) reported that a group of senior government officials led by Peace Minister Muferiat Kamil, were holding discussions with officials from Dembi Dollo University, local and security officials from the area as well as community members. AMMA didn't mention details of the ongoing discussion. It is also not clear if the latest crack down are connected to the news of the missing students, about whom the government remained quiet.
Update:@ethiotelecom CEO Frehiwot Tamiru says internet & phone line shutdowns in W. #Oromia connected to peace & security in the area & apologized. She said the company in discussion with relevant authorities and further explanation will be provided by authorities. Source: Tikvah pic.twitter.com/tn6vS3pVZL - Addis Standard (@addisstandard) January 21, 2020
Internet and telephone lines in western Oromia have been cut off for the last six weeks, effectively disconnecting the area with the rest of the world. On January 21, state monopoly Ethiotelecom's CEO Frehiwot Tamitu admitted that the company has disconnected the area due to peace and security related issues.