Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association Threatens to Sue Government over Kidnapped Students

Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association standing up for kidnapped University students as government seems to think that their plight is forgotten

By Bernabas Shiferaw
May 21, 2020

Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA) has criticized the government for not giving due attention to the case of the 17 university students kidnapped in Wollega five months ago. The executive of the association, Lensa Biyena, has told Ethio FM that the Association has attempted to gather information from the respective government bodies, but these bodies have not given them any significant information.  

She also said the association will do its utmost to pressure the government to resolve the issue and could go as far as suing the government for its negligence. 

The students, of which 14 are female, were on their way to their homes, having left Dembi Dollo University as classes had been interrupted for some time due to ethnic-based conflicts between students, and they did not feel safe in the campus.  

According to Asmra Shumye, who was initially kidnapped along with the 17 students but managed to escape the kidnappers soon afterwards, the students were kidnapped by a group of young men from inside the bus they were aboard and taken to the woods. Some parents had received phone calls from the students after they were kidnapped. But the phone calls ceased after a few days. 

The issue garnered overwhelming media attention, and a social media campaign was started demanding for the release of the students. The public was even more outraged by the government’s claim that the students have been released, which was proven wrong in the following days. 

Mass demonstrations were held in many cities of the Amhara region asking the government to have the students released. However, there was no progress afterwards, and the movements and campaigns dedicated to the matter died down slowly and ceased completely following the appearance of the Coronavirus.

Mrs. Lensa explained that the association has been involved in the matter ever since the government confirmed the news. Among other things, it has met and discussed with the students’ parents and started a social media campaign to put pressure on the government. However, lack of clear and certain information was the major obstacle in the association’s efforts to realize the release of the students. 

The appearance of the Corona virus has diverted the public attention from the case of the kidnapped students. Moreover, the restrictions that have followed its appearance have weakened efforts that were being carried out through the media and other means. 

Mrs. Lensa told Ethio FM that the government has a duty to respond to requests concerning the matter as well as to resolve the matter. But, if the government is not going to carry out its responsibilities, the association will work to pressure the government by calling national and international attention to the matter. And this could go as far as suing the government. 

She has also called on all citizens to be a voice to the kidnapped students and their families, and members of the civic society to work with the association on the issue as it is a matter of human rights violation. 

Mr. Nigusu Tilahun, the press secretariat at the Prime Minister’s office, responded, asked about the issue today by Ahadu Radio, saying that the government has not neglected the issue but is working on it and will announce the results to the public soon. 

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