Monday, 28 September 2009

The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) Considers Them Prisoners of Conscience

Seventy three Oromo nationals, ages ranging between the youngest of 18 and the oldest of 80 years, have recently been taken to court with another list of the usual political charges, which included alleged conspiring along with OLF (the Oromo Liberation Front) – an armed opposition political organization working to remove the government from power. The details of this newest bundle of charges include, among others, allegedly conspiracy to overthrow the government by collaborating with the OLF fighters by guiding them and providing them with information as well as weapons and ammunition, and fighting alongside the OLF fighters and inflicting casualties, including death on members of the defense forces.

The accused, most of whom are from the Eastern Oromia region of Hararge, include both males and females of varying ages, marital status and careers. According to documents obtained by HRLHA from its informants in Ethiopia, most of those suspects have already spent up to five years in prison, although this is the first time to be taken to court. Given the inefficient and highly politicized legal system of Ethiopia, the trial (which is usually a mockery) of such large number of political suspects would take years before reaching a verdict. Past experiences considered, HRLHA believes that this is a deliberate and systematic way of punishing and intimidating suspected political prisoners by exposing them to extended and harsh prison situations.

The ruling EPRDF party in Ethiopia, by abusing the global agenda of the war on terror, has been silencing and, in some cases, eliminating what it labels as its political opponents by accusing them of allegedly committing terrorist acts, simply because they attempted to exercise their democratic rights, which are granted by the Constitution and other related international covenants that the country has ratified.

Since the EPRDF Government came to power (1991) many innocent civilians from all walks of life and different ethnic backgrounds, age groups, religions and genders have become victims of this suppressive political system. Although the victims have been multiple and various, the pretexts and the allegations have always been one and the same – to be suspected of being either a member or a supporter of this or that opposition political organizations.

The list of the accused is obtained by HRLHA reporters in Ethiopia from the charge compiled by the Dirre Dhawa office of the Prosecutor General of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and presented to the Federal High Court against the political suspects in March 2009.

All defendants, after their first appearance in court, were taken back to the Shinilie detention center in Dirre Dhawa administrative region, where they are believed to have been held ever since they were arrested. The informants of HRLHA have learnt that some of the inmates died prior to the court appearance of this group mainly due to very poor prison situations including lack of medical care, food and sanitation. According to HRLHA reporters, the prisoners get only two glasses of water and three slices of local bread per day, which is insufficient both quantitatively and nutritionally.

HRLHA has also learnt that most of those prisoners were kept in confinements for the past five years without court appearance. The HRLHA considers all defendants to be prisoners of conscience; as they have been arrested, imprisoned and charged for attempting to exercise their democratic political rights and their freedom of thought based on their ethnic identity. HRLHA expresses its deepest concern for the safety of those prisoners.

Since the TPLF/EPRDF Government took full control of power in 1992, countless batches of Oromos and other ethnic groups have ended up in prisons and faced countless bundles of political charges, which are usually replicas of each other. In a country like Ethiopia, with the poorest economy and more of patriarchal societies, HRLHA is highly concerned about the negative impacts of such endless, unfounded and indiscriminate political actions on the already devastated socio-economic situation in the country; for such political actions usually target the relatively educated, skilled, experienced and relatively productive segments of the society, and individuals who are in most cases heads of families.

HRLHA calls on the authorities of Ethiopia to either give swift and fair trial to those seventy three suspected persons or release them from prison.

HRLHA calls on governments of the West, regional and international diplomatic communities and human rights agencies to join hands and try to pressurize the Ethiopian Government so that it refrains from politically intimidating its own peoples, and instead engages itself in constructive activities that could help reverse the ever worsening socio-economic situation of the country.

HRLHA is a non-political organization which attempts to challenge abuses of human rights of the people of various nations and nationalities in the Horn of Africa. It is aimed at defending fundamental human rights including freedoms of thought, expression, movement and association. It is also aimed at raising the awareness of individuals about their own basic human rights and that of others. It has intended to work on the observances as well as due processes of law. It promotes the growth and development of free and vigorous civil societies.


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