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Wolayta Committee for Human Rights alleges the arrest of at least 35 activists

Wolayta _ Ethiopia

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Wolayta Committee for Human Rights on Sunday said at least 35 Wolayta activists are arrested in South Ethiopia.

The arrest is apparently linked to the State of Emergency that Ethiopia declared recently after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of Dessie and Kombolcha.

The Ethiopian government, at this writing, did not disclose about the arrests in Wolayta.

Wolayta Committee For Human Rights has released a statement regarding the development and it is featured below :

WCHR condemns Wolayta arrests in Ethiopia

WCHR Press Release

WCHR condemns the recent mass detention of Wolayta activists and politicians in southern Ethiopia. By our count, at least 35 renowned Wolayta dissidents have been arrested throughout the zone, however the numbers could be higher. 

In response to repeated inquiry by members of Wolayta Committee for Human Rights (WCHR),  both the local and zonal administration of Wolayta have pointed to the recently enacted State of Emergency (SOE) Proclamation as a legal basis for the arrests. The SOE proclamation had reportedly threatened to detain those who “cooperate” with the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and/or “operatives of the TPLF and its affiliates.” 

However, such justifications have not held up to close scrutiny. With the small exception of a handful Wolayta politicians who had past association with the TPLF, the overwhelming majority of those arrested recently have had no association or connection with the TPLF. 

Therefore, the Ethiopian government in general, and the government of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) in particular, must either officially charge or release these Wolayta detainees as soon as possible. Further illegal detainment of these and other individuals who have no affiliation with the TPLF is not only a violation of their human rights, but this illegal government actions will also create and exasperate an environment of panic, tensions and instability that was supposed to be decreased by the SOE.

WCHR calls on international human rights organizations worldwide to join us in putting pressure on the Ethiopian government to release innocent Wolayta prisoners.

BACKGROUND

Since the former TPLF rulers waged war on the Ethiopian central government in November 2020, crackdown on suspected collaborators nationwide had put a spotlight on Wolayta zone. Despite the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn (who is from Wolayta nation) helping reformers led by current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to sideline the TPLF; many southern Ethiopians had falsely peddled conspiracy theories that Wolayta people had economically and politically benefitted previously at the expense of other southern Ethiopians with TPLF blessing. This falsehood had fostered anti-Wolayta sentiment region-wide in SNNPR. Between 2018-2020, some controversial Wolayta politicians like Assefa Wodajo also traveled to Tigray for political alliance with TPLF (while the rest of the country shunned the former brutal TPLF rulers), which further legitimized the misconceptions that Wolayta politicians are collaborators with the TPLF.

However, evidence suggests that our Wolayta people on the ground opposed the TPLF dictatorship, no less than any other oppressed nations and nationalities. And Wolayta citizens have overwhelmingly rejected various attempts by the former TPLF rulers to create networks of destabilization in the south. 

“Despite the TPLF rejecting Wolayta statehood demands for over 20 years, some Tigrayan operatives in Sodo and cyberspace began agitating the local statehood demands since 2019 to trigger tension and destabilize the transitional government of Abiy,” said Admasu Ashango, the former Chairman of WCHR. 

The response from Wolayta nation has been to pursue peace and co-existence with all Ethiopians, making the zone one of the most peaceful regions of the recent turbulent years. During the 2021 election, Wolayta zone witnessed one of the most vibrant democratic debates and competition between multiple opposition parties, not seen in most other regions. In some Wolayta constituents, there were up-to five political parties competing for a single parliament seat. Ultimately, while some citizens were unhappy with the poll results, this 2021 election was a milestone institutional progress and a notably first democratic exercise in Wolayta history. At this period, Wolayta capital city Sodo and other Wolayta towns are also under a construction boom, increased productivity and business activity. In fact, Wolayta people, against all odds, had shown their dedication to nonviolence while demanding equality and change. Therefore, the Ethiopian government of Abiy Ahmed should not pursue aggressive and combative military activities that agitate the public. The Abiy government must respect Wolayta people and avoid incriminating those who are peacefully and patiently advocating for change. 

The WCHR would also like to condemn recent attempts, by fringe Wolayta politicians in the Diaspora, to make our region a war-zone. WCHR asks the peace-loving Wolayta people to be vigilant and continue rejecting such militant elements online from abroad, using names like “Wolayta defense force” or “Department of Defense,” which do not exist on the ground. These are individuals on cyber space and social media that are confirmed to be nonexistent inside Wolayta, but want to import and impose the military agenda of outside forces like TPLF. Such cyber activity gained popularity among diaspora Wolayta activists online, particularly since October when TPLF captured Dessie and other towns, as international media began broadcasting the imminent downfall of Addis Ababa to TPLF forces. 

WCHR urges Wolayta nation to ignore and continue rejecting these Facebook, Twitter and other social media driven online individuals who want to copycat TPLF. Having witnessed the thousands killed in Afar, Tigray and Amhara; having witnessed endless mothers crying, having witnessed the millions displaced by senseless war and billions of dollars worth of property destruction, Wolayta people should and will continue to deny these diaspora-based online pro-war noises that are being promoted by notable European merchants of wars like Kjetil Tronvoll and Martin Plaut. WCHR also urges the Ethiopian government to urgently avoid: overreacting to these online threats that are nonexistent on the ground, pursuing unnecessary security crackdown on dissidents and undertaking aggressive implementation of the SOE in Wolayta region, which can backfire and create a fertile environment for militant and extremist individuals to begin recruitment. The Ethiopian government must not misuse the SOE proclamation to violate citizens’ fundamental human rights, and the government must release dozens of unjustly detained Wolayta dissidents without delay.

Wolayta Committee for Human Rights (WCHR)

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