Ethiopia: Over a dozen killed during Oromo protests

It happened a day after Jawar Mohammed claimed in court that he is sick which authorities in Oromo region of Ethiopia dismissed saying he is in good health.

Oromo Protests _ Menelik Statue
Qerroo protesters targeting Emperor Menelik’s statue on June 29. Photo : Social Media

By Teshome Borago
Follow him on Twitter : @MTBorago
August 18, 2020

After diaspora Oromo activists and Oromia Media Network (OMN) called for mass protests on Tuesday, at least a dozen have reportedly died in the Ethiopian region of Oromia. The regional police commission had previously declared the protests “illegal.”

The protests nicknamed “12/12/12” were announced by Facebook activists and OMN media, corresponding to the August 18, 2020 date (which translates to August 12, 2012 in the Geez calendar.) Most of the protests were originally said to be peaceful but some gradually turned violent leading to confrontation with regional and federal police who were eager to prevent a repeat of the July cleansing of minorities in the same region.

Oromo activists claimed much higher death toll but about a dozen deaths were so far confirmed by multiple sources. A significant portion of the violence were alleged to concentrate around parts of Hararghe, Walaga and Arsi as protests were limited in other Oromia regions. Yet, numerous rural road blocks were witnessed, causing a backup of traffic to routes leading to Addis Ababa.

Graphic images of youth shot by police exemplified the excessive force often used by ill-prepared Ethiopian security forces during Oromo protests. However, the casualties allegedly included police officers, as an OLF faction admitted ambushing police in western Oromia. “An OLA unit in Horo Guduru Walaga has successfully carried out an attack against government forces,” it announced online.

Witnesses in Hararghe also told VOA that eight have died from gun shot. Facebook Activists claimed over 20 have died in Arsi but hospital sources there Tuesday night told VOA that nobody has died, though several were being treated for injuries.

THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA FAKE NEWS

Fake news has created alternative realities online as various Oromo protestors claimed Jawar Mohammed has been poisoned or died, while Tigray Online media posted photoshopped image of Emperor Menelik’s statue burned down in Addis Ababa. Other Facebook pages spread photos of old Oromo protests that took place before the CoronaVirus pandemic, from 2019. These fake news posts had thousands of shares, perpetuating tensions in the region.

During the July massacres, the Ethiopian government blocked Facebook; as its influence was far more damaging than traditional media, even more than the popular OMN broadcast channel. Several Oromo activists affiliated with OMN and Jawar Mohammed have hundreds of thousands of online followers. Notable among them was Shemsudin Teha, a website manager of OMN who had over 300,000 followers. After the assassination of Hacalu Hundesa, Shemsudin allegedly posted messages inciting violence against “Neftegna,” a label often used to refer to Amharas and Amharic speaking southerners as well as nonpolitical Orthodox Oromos. On the night of July 29, he famously posted a photo of youth walking towards the statue of Emperor Menelik in Addis Ababa, with the message “Birbirsa Goro Piaassa Birmannaa,” which suggested Qeerroo must destroy the statue and take over the Piassa district. Birbirsa Gori is the alternative Oromo name of Piassa district in the capital city. Due to such calls for violence, Shemsudin and others affiliated with OMN have been detained. Since OMN moved into Ethiopia in 2018, it attempted to avoid direct legal accountability but affiliated Oromo activists and OMN’s popular Facebook surrogates like Shemsudin continued to play a key role in agitating the public toward violence.

As the trial of Jawar and co continues in Ethiopia; it is unknown if their defense lawyers can effectively use such “plausible deniability” to secure their freedom.



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