Amnesty International concerned over arrests
By the staff reporter
in Capital, September 4 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Amnesty International says it is concerned with arrest of two opposition politicians it said were taken into custody after meeting with the organization. The human rights group says it fears for the safety of the other people its delegation has met.
The two opposition members, Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movment and Olbana Lelisa of the Oromo People's Congress Party, have been arrested after meeting an Amnesty International delegation, wich was afterwards expelled from the country, the organization said.
" We are extremely concerned that the arrests of the two men occured within days of talking with our delegates. Although the Ethiopian government has denied it, we are worried that their arrests are not a coincidence, but because they spoke to Amnesty International, " said Michelle Kagari, deputy programme director for Africa.
Bekele Gerba, an english teacher at Addis Ababa University, was arrested on allegations of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Amnesty International has met with Olbana Lelisa the day before his arrest to exchange information. They also met with Bekele Gerba four days before his arrest. According to the rights group, Amnesty International delegates were photographed by secret service agents leaving his office after the meeting.
In the meeting Bekele Gerba has explained to Amnesty International the irony of Oromo politicians being accused of belonging to the OLF. " The OLF don't like us ", he said. " They say we are legitimising the rule of the EPRDF (the ruling party), they say we are their puppets and our struggle does not bear any fruit."
Both men were long-standing opposition politicians, who had campaigned openly in the 2010 national elections. " The arrests are indicative of the constant harrassment of opposition politicians, and severe stifling of freedom of expression in the country, " said Michelle Kagari.
The two men are now being held in the federal police investigation center, " Maikelawi ", from where Amnesty International has received countless reports of the use of torture. Furthermore, detainees at Maikelawi are, as a general rule, denied access to lawyers or family members, for periods of up to one or two months, the rights group said.
The Amnesty International delegates were under constant surveillance during the twelve days they spent in the country before being expelled, the statement said. " We are now extremely concerned for the safety of everyone our delegates met with while they were in the country, " said Michelle Kagari.
" Bekele Gerba was arrested and detained by the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force because of his alleged connection and involvment with the recently proscribed terrorist organization OLF, " Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal was quoting as saying.