Concerned Citizens Present Petition Denouncing Arrest and Detention of Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON DC, December 17, 2015—A petition denouncing the unjust imprisonment of three Ethiopian human rights defenders and calling on the Ethiopian government to drop all charges against them immediately, is being presented this week to the Ethiopian government as well as its financial backers—governments of the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and the World Bank, which provide a significant amount of international aid to Ethiopia. The petition is signed by 1,229 people from 70 countries.
In March of 2015, Omot Agwa Okwoy, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele were arrested on their way to a food security workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. The event was organized by the indigenous rights organization, Anywaa Survival Organisation, with support from international NGOs Bread for All and GRAIN. The three human rights and land rights defenders were detained for nearly six months without charge and denied access to legal representation. On September 7, 2015, they were charged under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.
The charges against the detainees claim that they are active in the Gambela Peoples Liberation Movement (GPLM) though they have no ties to the GPLM and there is no evidence linking them to the organization. The food security workshop in Nairobi had no connection to the GPLM either. These charges appear to have been fabricated under Ethiopia’s highly flawed counterterrorism law in order to intimidate and silence the country’s indigenous communities. The Anuak and other indigenous peoples in Ethiopia are struggling to stop the government-led takeover of their lands and resources by large-scale agricultural investors.
Ashinie Astin, from a Majang indigenous community, is a former elected member of the Gambela regional council in southwestern Ethiopia. Jamal Oumar works for Assossa Environmental Protection, an NGO that promotes environmental protection and indigenous rights. Omot Agwa Okwoy, an evangelical pastor, worked as an interpreter for the World Bank during its 2014 investigation of a complaint by Anuak indigenous people alleging widespread forced displacement and human rights violations related to a World Bank project in Gambela. Pastor Omot arranged interviews for the Bank’s Inspection Panel, its internal watchdog, with Anuak who told World Bank investigators about beatings, rapes, and summary executions by Ethiopian soldiers. Soon after, Omot began receiving intimidating messages, leading up to his arrest in March.
The petition denounces the Ethiopian government and its financial backers—the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and the World Bank—for the unjust imprisonment of Omot Agwa Okwoy, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele. It also calls on the government of Ethiopia to drop of all charges against the detainees and ensure their immediate release and safety. Petition signers left numerous comments in support of the detainees (see below). The petition demonstrates growing public outcry against the criminalization of human rights defenders and outrage against the Ethiopian government and its backers concerning ongoing repression of activists, journalists, bloggers, and dissidents in the country.