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Demand the Immediate Release of Oromo Peace Activist Bekele Gerba and other Political Prisoners from Ethiopian Prison

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(Photo Credit: Mahafreen H. Mistry/NPR)

On the evening of Dec 23, 2015, Bekele Gerba, was at home, reading at his desk in the company of his wife and son when armed Ethiopian federal security forces surrounded his home, entered and searched his house against his will, and forcibly arrested him. His family and witnesses were told that he would be taken to Makalawi, an infamous high security prison where they could visit him in 24 hours. But they were not allowed to see him. The day he was scheduled to appear in court, he disappeared. Later, he was taken to a hospital where word got out that he had been beaten to unconsciousness during an interrogation at a military camp. He continues to be denied visitation. Right now, he is being held incommunicado, and we have grave concerns that his health is deteriorating.

Bekele Gerba is the Deputy Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress party and a widely respected peace advocate. He is a renowned voice for nonviolence, urging only peaceful forms of resistance to violent oppression in Ethiopia.  He envisions peaceful struggle as the preferred means for attaining democracy, unity, and justice. He has become a significant voice of this generation. 

His arrest late December was not his first. In August 2011, following a meeting with Amnesty International about Ethiopia’s human rights violations, Bekele was imprisoned, charged under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism proclamation and sentenced to eight years. Similarly trumped up charges are frequently used to silence any voice of opposition to the government. He was released in late March 2015 upon appeal, and upon his release, he was invited to the U.S. to deliver keynote remarks at an academic conference.  He spent a week in Washington, meeting with members of the diplomatic community. He met with Congress members, State Department officials, media outlets and human rights groups. He gave an interview to NPR’s Michele Kelemen about the lack of political space in Ethiopia and to Al Jazeera’s The Stream. Recently, he spoke to Al Jazeera about the Ethiopian government’s violent crackdown on widespread Oromo protests against proposed large-scale land takeovers that will displace millions of farmers.

For most of his life, Bekele was a professor of foreign languages. A few years ago, he declared that he could not simply witness the widespread and systematic oppression, ethnic persecution and grievances of his people, the Oromo, and the Ethiopian government’s merciless targeting and killing of the Oromo. Amnesty International reported, “between 2011 and 2014, at least 5000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government.”  Dejene Tafa, the legal advisor to OFC, was also recently arrested, as was Addisu Bulala, Desta Dinka, Singer Hawi Tezera, Birra Gemedi, Hailu Adugna, poet Goshu Girma, journalist Getachew Shiferaw, young students Lomitu Waqbulcho and Hirut Tola, news anchor Fikadu Mirkana and many more. Right now, thousands upon thousands of civilians are being rounded up, arrested, tortured or killed by federal security for participating in peaceful Oromo protests.

UPDATE (September 4th, 2016)

It was reported that yesterday, a large fire broke out in Qilinto prison, where Bekele is being held. It was also reported that the fire was intentionally started by government agents and that security forces shot at prisoners trying to escape the fire. Twenty-two burned bodies were taken to Paulos Hospital, 13 more have died at Tor Hacloch Hospital, and 14 more have died at Police Hospital. It is unclear whether Bekele is one of the many who have died.

It has now been over 8 months since the arrest of Bekele Gerba and hundreds of others prisoners of conscience. Despite his imprisonment, Bekele has continued to remain a leader and voice of reason amidst the escalating violence and terror that the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government has continued to perpetuate against innocent citizens. More recently, he called for a mourning campaign across the world to mourn the martyred people of Oromia and Ethiopia and the immediate release of all political prisoners.

Although it is unclear whether Bekele remains with us today, please continue to support and share this petition to others, to stand for Bekele's call for the immediate release of all political prisoners from the torturous conditions of Ethiopian prisons, and to not let his sacrifices as well as the sacrifices of all political prisoners be in vain.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”- MLK



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