New Year Crackdown!
By Pawlos Belete
in Capital,Tuesday, 20 September 2011, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Last week the government ordered the arrest of journalists and politicians under the anti-terrorism legislation in the first big crackdown since the 2005 elections.
On Thursday the following members were arrested from the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ): Andualem Arage, Vice Chairman and Head of the Public Relation Standing Committee, two members of the executive committee Natnaiel Mekonen, and Asaminew Birehanu.
UDJ has called upon the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRDF) for constructive dialogue during a press conference given to members of the diplomatic community and the media at its head office on Friday. The party confirmed that three of its executive council members were arrested last Wednesday, September 14, 2011, for allegedly participating in acts of terror.
On Wednesday journalist Eskindir Nega was also arrested for allegedly being involved with terrorist activities too. Zemenu Mola who is the Secretary General and head of the Election Affairs of the All Ethiopian Democratic Party was also arrested for the same allegation.
According to police, the five suspects were arrested for terrorist offences in collaboration with the outlawed Ginbot 7 political party.
The Federal Police said that the suspected detainees were not arrested for their political outlook but for their engagement in creating havoc in the country.
All of the suspects appeared before the court on Thursday, September 15, 2011 and denied their involvement in any terrorist offences.
The imprisonment of politicians and journalists this week is a continuation of arrests that happened a few weeks ago, when Wubishet Taye Deputy Editor of Awramba Times, Reiyot Alemu Columnist of Fitih, Zerihun G/Egiziabeher Chairman of All Ethiopian Democratic Party, and Artist Debebe Eshetu, member of UDJ were among those who were put behind bar.
The Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) has called upon the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRDF) for constructive dialogue amid intimidations and the arrest of one of its members. In a press conference given to members of the diplomatic community and the media at its head office, the party disclosed that three of its executive council members were arrested last Wednesday, September 14, 2011, for allegedly participating in acts of terror.
“UDJ fully realizes that terrorism is an irresponsible act that destroys innocent lives, maims innocent people, destroys a country’s resource and development structures; and as such condemns it without any equivocation. We condemn terrorism not only because it is destructive but also because it is the act of arrogant bullies that impose their will on others. On the other hand, in as much as we condemn terrorism, we also condemn any regime that terrorizes its people in the name of fighting terrorism. This is our firm position and the people know it. Nor is this UDJ position hidden from the EPRDF and its ubiquitous state security that operates on a budget of millions of birr,” reads the official press statement issued by UDJ last Friday.
“As we have been making it clear at every opportunity available, the proclamation on terrorism has become not only a mechanism for spreading terror among the people but also a major weapon for suppressing any legal and peaceful opposition to the ruling regime. The arrest of Andualem Arage, Vice Chairman and Head of the Public Relation Standing Committee of the party, and two other members of the executive committee of the party; Natnaiel Mekonen, and Asaminew Birehanu, on September 14, 2011, and the statement given by the government following the arrest is a clear example of this truth,” argues the press statement.
The vice chairman and Head of the Public Relation Standing Committee of the UDJ, was arrested last week while he was on his way to the head office of his party situated at the back of the Indian Embassy located in an area customarily called Shisemania, according to eye witnesses. He was planning to hear about his offspring’s first day at school, described a political colleague despairingly, who last had contact with him.
Five people accused of terrorist offences, including the aforementioned three, plus Zemenu Mola and Eskinder Nega appeared before the court of law at Arada First Instance Court 3rd criminal bench on Thursday September 15. All of them were detained a day before. “The main message of this press conference is very simple. We are saying that the measures that this government is taking, the trend that this government is pursuing is wrong. The right thing to do would be to get together with all stakeholders and discuss our national issues, our problems and come to an agreement. Force does not bring any meaningful result, any useful fruits. And we in the UDJ oppose any kind of force or forcible action. The measures taken recently in arresting our people, totally violates the human and democratic rights enshrined in our constitution. A sensible way of going about it is by resolving our problems [social, economic and political problems]. That can be done through coming together and creating a dialogue,” said Dr. Hailu Araya, a veteran politician and member of the executive committee of UDJ, in a calm but visible sense of dissatisfaction with the political scene in the country.
“Our leaders, when they go abroad and attend international forums, they talk about the need for dialogue to build a sustainable peace. But at home they are not practicing what they preach abroad. So, we ask our leaders to practice here at home what they preach abroad. Force is useless. It does not bring anything to anybody including the leaders themselves from a long term perspective. We repeat our call again. Let’s get together. Let stakeholders of this country get together, discuss the problems we have, and come up with solutions. This is the essence of our message today,” added the veteran politician.
In court, Andualem Arage cast doubt about the court’s independence and impartiality. He said he doesn’t trust that his case will be conducted freely and fairly.
Government Communication Affairs Office State Minister Shimelis Kemal, on his part said that some political parties are misinterpreting the measures taken by the government and the follow up they are conducting into the terrorism allegations.
The state minister said that the series of statements being made by political parties are of no importance.
He further said that political parties should clean themselves up to avoid intruders, who try to dismantle the constitution that offers them freedom to advance their political views, noting that the Task Force would continue to foil the terrorist acts with active participation from the public to ensure peace and stability in the country.
UDJ, however, stated in its official press statement that “It has never been and will never be a den for people who promote acts of terrorism. All the measures and activities of our party are based on democratically made decisions and implemented in a transparent manner. It must be made clear that the real reason for the accusation that UDJ is a den for terrorists is the fact that our party has been gaining strength, from the support and trust of the people.”
The messages that come out of the arrest of Andualem are many, but the one message that comes out loud and clear is the intimidation of the young people who are coming to opposition parties, assuming positions of responsibility and proving their capability. And it is a sinister design to chase them away from the arena of struggle. This is a clear strategy for nipping genuine youth involvement in the bud,” analyzes the statement.
“These days, accusing heroes who struggle peacefully for the respect of human and democratic rights of citizens as terrorists seems to have become a fashion on the part of the government. The imprisonment of the renowned free journalist, Eskindir Nega, is viewed in this light. So is the case of the politicians and journalists who were imprisoned a few weeks earlier,” the statement went on explaining the government’s action against journalists and politicians.
Eskinder Nega is a veteran independent journalist well known for his critical views towards the ruling party while Zemenu Mola is the Secretary General head of the Election Affairs of the All Ethiopian Democratic Party.
All of them appeared before the court on Thursday, September 15, 2011 and denied their involvement in any terrorist offences.
According to the Federal Police, the suspected detainees who were recently put under control, were not arrested for their political outlook but for their evidenced engagement of creating havoc in the country. Federal Police Central Intelligence and Crime Intelligence Director, Assistant Commissioner Demelash Gebremichael said that the individuals have been put in custody after the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police Joint Anti-terror Task Force found them engaged in destabilizing peace and security in the country and dismantling the constitution.
He further said that the individuals were engaged in destructive acts under the cover of political parties officially registered to advance their political views in peaceful manner.
Demelash said the individuals had strong relations with a terrorist group called Ginbot 7 and were receiving support from foreign forces, which are aiming to create chaos in the country in the New Ethiopian year.
He said the Task Force has also obtained evidence that proves the suspects were also providing information to external forces and were spying for their cause.
This is the first time since the 2005 post election turmoil that the government has ordered such a drastic crackdown against journalists and politicians.
Following the request made by police for extra time to file a legal suit against the suspects on account of insufficient time to complete its investigation, the court allowed a time extension of 28 days. The suspects are expected to appear in the court of law on October 12, 2011.
The outlawed Ginbot 7 political party. is listed as one of the five terrorist groups the country has put on its blacklist. The other four are, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), al Shabab and Al-Qaeda. The former two being home grown insurgent groups.