Saturday, December 19, 2015

At least 75 killed in Ethiopia protests: HRW - Yahoo News

People mourn the death of alleged protester Dinka Chala who was shot dead by Ethiopian forces in Yubdo Village, about 100km from Addis Ababa, on December 17, 2015

View gallery

  • .
Nairobi (AFP) - At least 75 people have been killed during weeks of protests in Ethiopia which have seen soldiers and police firing on demonstrators, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
"Police and military forces have fired on demonstrations, killing at least 75 protesters and wounding many others, according to activists," HRW said in a statement.
Rights groups have repeatedly criticised Ethiopia's use of anti-terrorism legislation to stifle peaceful dissent, with Washington expressing concern over the crackdown and urging Addis Ababa to employ restraint.
There was no immediate response from Ethiopian government, which has previously put the toll at five dead.
Government spokesman Getachew Reda said the "peaceful demonstrations" that began last month had escalated into violence, accusing protesters of "terrorising the civilians."
The protests began in November when students opposed government proposals to take over territory in several towns in the Oromia region, sparking fears that Addis Ababa was looking to grab land traditionally occupied by the Oromo people, the country's largest ethnic group.
Demonstrations have taken place in the towns of Haramaya, Jarso, Walliso and Robe among others.
- 'Dozens' shot -
"Human Rights Watch received credible reports that security forces shot dozens of protesters in Shewa and Wollega zones, west of Addis Ababa, in early December," HRW added.
"Several people described seeing security forces in the town of Walliso, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa, shoot into crowds of protesters in December, leaving bodies lying in the street."
HRW also said "numerous witnesses" described how "security forces beat and arrested protesters, often directly from their homes at night."
Pictures have appeared on social media, apparently showing bloodied protestors and armed police firing tear gas at student demonstrators.
"The Ethiopian government's response to the Oromia protests has resulted in scores dead and a rapidly rising risk of greater bloodshed," HRW's Leslie Lefkow said.
"The government's labelling of largely peaceful protesters as 'terrorists' and deploying military forces is a very dangerous escalation of this volatile situation."
With at least 27 million people, Oromia is the most populous of the country's federal states and has its own language, Oromo, distinct from Ethiopia's official Amharic language.
- US 'deeply concerned' -
In a statement issued on Saturday, which did not directly refer to the HRW figures, Washington expressed grave concern over the unrest.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the recent clashes in the Oromia region of Ethiopia that reportedly have resulted in the deaths of numerous protestors," said the State Department.
"We urge the government of Ethiopia to permit peaceful protest and commit to a constructive dialogue to address legitimate grievances," it said, also urging protesters "to refrain from violence and to be open to dialogue."
Writing on Twitter on Friday, Washington's UN envoy Samantha Power spoke of "concerning rhetoric" from Ethiopia's prime minister, insisting the government "must use restraint" in its response to the Oromo protests.
Britain's Foreign Office also expressed concern over the protests in a statement issued on Friday, noting that some had "turned violent, resulting in casualties."
"There have been heavy clashes including gunfire between protesters and security forces" on December 17, it said, warning Britons against all but essential travel to western and southwestern parts of Oromia.
Some foreign-owned commercial farms have been "looted and destroyed" in the protests near Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa, HRW said.
HRW said the protests -- and bloody crackdown -- echoed protests in April and May 2014 when police were accused of opening fire and killing "dozens" of protestors. The government said eight people died in the 2014 unrest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

British Father On Death Row In Ethiopia Tells UK: "Bury Me In England" - BuzzFeed News

In a meeting with the UK ambassador to Ethiopia, Andargachew Tsege told his family to “be brave”.

Andargachew Tsege with his wife Yemi and their three children. Supplied
A British man currently on death row in Ethiopia has asked the UK ambassador to make sure that he is buried in England during a meeting that highlighted serious concerns over the handling of his case and his treatment in prison.
BuzzFeed News has seen a redacted copy of notes written by ambassador Greg Dorey of his meeting with Andargachew Tsege, 59, at Kality prison near Addis Ababa on 15 October.
Tsege, a father of three from north London, was snatched by Ethiopian security forces at an airport in Yemen last June while he was waiting for a flight to Eritrea. He was taken to Ethiopia having been sentenced to death in his absence for allegedly plotting a coup and planning to kill Ethiopian officials, allegations he denies.
Campaigners claim the real reason he faces execution is that he fell out with former prime minister Meles Zenawi after exposing government corruption.
Dorey writes in his notes that Tsege told him his status in Kality Prison was odd, “since he had no ‘warrant number’ (i.e. prisoner number), so he was ‘not even in the system’”.
Nothing had been said to Tsege about charges against him, Dorey writes, and so a formal charge sheet had been demanded. “He had only heard on radio, TV and the internet about previous charges against him,” Dorey says, “and had the right to know why he was in prison.”
The notes continue: “At this point he became a little more emotional. He said he would ‘take his own measures … I will not allow myself to be debased and dehumanised’ (no further details).”
The ambassador’s notes conclude:
I asked if he had messages for the family. He said “Hello, be brave”. He did not want “complications”. Finally, he asked us to ensure he was “buried in England” – it was important for children to know where their parent/s ended up. I said I would come and see him in a month. He commented that I had said that last time and then had been unable to visit until now, but he fully realised that was not my fault. I said I had been given a high-level promise that a visit in a month would be possible.
Tsege told the ambassador he was sleeping in a small cell with three other people and had not been outside the prison at any point. He said he was occasionally being visited by his 90-year-old father and his stepmother.
He said he picked up news from listening to other inmates’ TVs, and expressed surprise that his MP, Jeremy Corbyn, was now leader of the Labour party – “interesting, obviously the party is moving to the Left”.
He spoke at length to the ambassador about his political views. Dorey’s notes read:
He [said he was] was a prisoner of political masters but they were not applying the relevant regulations properly to him. Yet he was one of their friendliest critics, who understood them better than anyone and they shouldn’t demean him. He had served the regime in the past whole-heartedly and left it on principle. Some problems had since been resolved, others were still real…
When they had beaten and insulted him before in 2005 he had had no reason to go into opposition politics and was not even a member of the opposition – nor had he supported them. And actually Meles himself had said Ethiopia needed a “good opposition”. He had only spoken about politics by peaceful means.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ethiopia opposition groups say they are uniting for change - US News

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA, Associated Press
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Five Ethiopian dissident groups in exile said they have formed an alliance to bring a change of government back home, describing Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn's government as oppressive.
The new group is called the People's Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, according to a joint statement issued Friday in Oslo, Norway, where the groups met recently.
The alliance was formed by the Benishangul People's Liberation Movement, the Gambella People's Liberation Movement, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Sidama National Liberation Front, the statement said.
"The (alliance) will create an opportunity for all peoples in Ethiopia to co-create a transitional political order that is based on the consent of all peoples, where the outmoded hegemonic culture of a single group dominating the rest is dismantled and a new just political order is established, where the respect of the right to self-determination is genuinely granted to all," the statement said. The group said it "will conduct diplomatic, advocacy, information and other campaigns to change the current undemocratic political culture and oppressive system in Ethiopia."
Ethiopia's ruling party won every seat in parliament in May elections, raising questions about the credibility and fairness of the polls in a country whose government is accused by human rights organizations of harassing and jailing its opponents.
Human rights groups criticized U.S. President Barack Obama for visiting Ethiopia in July, saying his trip lent legitimacy to an oppressive government.
At the time, Prime Minister Desalegn defended Ethiopia's commitment to democracy and said the country needs "ethical journalism," not reporters that work with "terrorist groups."
Ethiopia is the world's second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ambiguity Shrouds the Case of a Missing Israeli of Ethiopian Descent - The New York Times


Agernsh Mengistu, left, and Ayalin Mengistu, the parents of Avera Mengistu, who disappeared about a year ago in Gaza. His condition and whereabouts remain mostly a mystery. CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

ASHKELON, Israel — In the grainy security camera footage, Avera Mengistu walks along the beach on the Israeli side of the border, marked by a wall and netting. Then, suddenly, he appears on the other side, in Gaza.
“You don’t see how he got there,” said his mother, Agernsh, describing the video from the security services that she and other relatives saw, as tears rolled down her face. Filmed from a particular angle and possibly edited, the family said, the video left them with as many questions as answers.
Almost a year after the disappearance of Mr. Mengistu, a 29-year-old Israeli Jew of Ethiopian descent, his family remains mostly in the dark about his whereabouts or condition. The Israeli authorities say they believe he is alive and being held hostage by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian enclave.

Shifting gears, the family was planning its first public protest to be held Monday outside an Israeli prison where relatives of Palestinian prisoners were expected to visit. The demonstration would be one of a series of protest actions focusing on the humanitarian aspect of the case, according to representatives of the family.
Until now the family had called on the public to act with restraint and to give the Israeli authorities more time to work behind the scenes, fearing that a noisy public campaign may only raise the value of Mr. Mengistu in Hamas’s eyes, and increase the price for his return.
Israel said last month that Mr. Mengistu had crossed the border into Gaza independently, lifting an official gag order on the case and touching off a flurry of media attention.
But a haze of official secrecy continues to hover over the episode. The Mengistu family says it has received no new information on the case for the past month. Hamas has spread ambiguous hints and contradictory messages about Mr. Mengistu, demanding a price for any firm information and intentionally adding to the uncertainty.
The state’s handling of the case has also prompted accusations of racism in a country where the issue of Israelis in captivity is an emotional one, but where Ethiopian-Israelis have recently taken to the streets to protest against what they view as discrimination, police harassment and brutality. Some critics have argued that the case could not have been suppressed for so long had the missing person been from a stronger section of Israeli society.
Channel 10, a commercial television station, released a tape of the government’s coordinator for hostages and missing persons, Lior Lotan, berating the Mengistus for daring to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a rare phone call why Mr. Netanyahu had not replied to their letters, and threatening them that blaming the government would only put off any possible release by a year. Mr. Lotan apologized.
But amid a storm of public criticism, Mr. Netanyahu rushed to visit the family on a Friday afternoon, shortly before the Sabbath, at their apartment in a rundown public housing project in this southern Israeli city about 10 miles up the coast from Gaza.
At the center of the case is a troubled man who was adrift long before he strode along the beach on Sept. 7, two weeks after a cease-fire took hold that ended 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Born in Ethiopia’s Gondar Province, Mr. Mengistu was airlifted to Israel with his family in 1991, at the age of 5.
The fourth of eight siblings, he went into first grade, proved “very clever,” said Yallo Mengistu, his oldest brother, and completed high school.
But Avera Mengistu, who has suffered from depression, was not drafted into the army at 18, like most Israeli Jews. He was given an exemption after a medical committee found him unfit to serve, according to documents provided by the family. His parents divorced and in 2011 another brother, Michael, who he admired and was close to, died of some form of anorexia.
After that, Mr. Mengistu’s depression worsened, according to his family. He lived with his mother and did odd jobs. He was hospitalized in psychiatric wards for a week or more twice in 2013, once voluntarily and once under an emergency commitment, according to Health Ministry records.
He had also gone missing for days at a time before he entered Gaza in September. Once, his family said, the police brought him home after he was found on a lonely shore by the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.
On Sept. 7, at about noon, Mr. Mengistu arrived at the family apartment in an agitated state. “He was pacing and wrapped up in his own thoughts,” said Ilan, another brother. His mother went into the kitchen to cook, hoping he would calm down. Then she heard the front door slam. By nightfall, Mr. Mengistu had not returned.
The next day, Ilan Mengistu said, officers from the Shin Bet internal security agency called him, then came to him at work and told him that his brother had crossed the border into Gaza at around 5 p.m. the day before. He left behind a bag containing his identity card, a Hebrew Bible, a towel, slippers and a mathematics book, though his brothers said he was not known to be studying math.
Mr. Mengistu had never spoken much about Gaza, according to his relatives. During last summer’s war, militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and more than 70 were killed on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers. But Mr. Mengistu was “in his own world,” Ilan said, adding, “What was happening did not interest him.”
When Israel publicized Mr. Mengistu’s case, it said another Israeli citizen, a Bedouin Arab from the Negev desert who was not named, had also crossed into Gaza in recent months and was also believed to be in the hands of Hamas. Israel says Hamas is also holding the remains of two soldiers, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, who were killed in action last summer.
The government has paid a high price in the past for the return of its citizens and soldiers, or their remains, in lopsided prisoner exchange deals. But the issue has become more politically charged since 2011 when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom had been convicted of deadly attacks against Israelis, in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was seized in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held captive by Hamas in Gaza for five years.
Gathered in Ilan’s small and simply furnished apartment for a recent interview, Mr. Mengistu’s family now seems torn between treading carefully with the Israeli authorities and not wanting to drive up Mr. Mengistu’s price, while appealing for mercy from Hamas and for international support.
In a rare public reference to Mr. Mengistu, a senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouq, denied Israel’s version of events, telling Al Jazeera’s website in a mid-July interview that Mr. Mengistu — who never served in the army — had been photographed in military uniform and suggesting that he was already in Gaza during the war last summer. He gave no hint of Mr. Mengistu’s whereabouts or condition, but he claimed that the Israelis were pretending that Mr. Mengistu was insane in an effort to lower his value.
“The story of my brother is a purely humanitarian one,” said Ilan Mengistu, noting that dozens of Palestinians who crossed illegally from Gaza into Israel have been sent back to their families. “There are many ways to solve conflicts,” he added, “but it is inconceivable that anyone with a drop of mercy in their heart would hold a man who is mentally ill.”
At the end of footage taken by the security camera, Yallo Mengistu said, two Palestinians can be seen in the sea and one on the beach on the Gaza side of the border.
“Avera speaks to the man on the beach for about 30 seconds,” he said. “Then he climbs up a hill and disappears.”