Join Me in Asking President Obama to Wield His Influence, and Help Bring My Father Home!
My father, Mr. Okello Akway Ochalla, is a Norwegian citizen who was kidnapped by the Ethiopian Security Forces and renditioned to Ethiopia in March 2014. Wrongly charged as a terrorist for defending indigenous rights, he has been languishing in jail for nearly two years.
United States, a key ally and donor of Ethiopia, can use its partnership, as it has in the past, to free my father.
You can read my letter to the President below.
Dear President Obama,
My best wishes to you and your family for 2016!
My name is Obok Okello Akway. I am a 25-year-old Anuak man, originally from Gambella, Ethiopia. Following the 2003 massacre of the Anuak people, I had to flee my home with my younger sister. After spending half of our lives as refugees in Kenya, my sister and I are proud to call the United States our home since November 2013.
I am writing to follow-up on a letter that I originally mailed to you in July 2015, to ask you to help secure the freedom of my father, Okello Akway Ochalla, a political prisoner in Ethiopia since March 2014.
In 2003, my father was the governor of Gambella—a region where the Ethiopian government is responsible for mass human rights violations and forced displacements of locals—when the massacre took place. He fled the country and eventually found asylum in Norway.
Speaking out against the ongoing repression of the Anuak people made my father a target of the Ethiopian regime. In March 2014, while visiting family and friends in South Sudan, my father was kidnapped and taken to Ethiopia, where he was imprisoned and charged under its harsh anti-terrorism law—all because he voiced his concerns about the actions of the Ethiopian government.
The law my father was charged under is the focus of a new report released this week by two US-based organizations, the Oakland Institute and the Environmental Defender Law Center. The report clearly shows that Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law violates international human rights and is a tool to stifle free speech and political freedoms in the country. The law has been used to lock up countless innocent people—from journalists, bloggers, and even artists, to student protesters and anyone critical of the Ethiopian Government, including my father.
These times are not good in Ethiopia. As you know, over the past month, student protests in Oromia have been met with extreme violence, with over 140 killed by Ethiopian security forces. Anyone who speaks out against the government is labeled a terrorist and jailed.
My father’s trial will resume on January 26, 2016. His lawyer has put forward a strong defense, and the only evidence used against my father is a confession obtained after his solitary confinement in Ethiopia’s Maekelawi prison, a place known for torture. I know that my father has endured numerous beatings and solitary confinement in the nearly two years since he was unlawfully detained and renditioned from South Sudan.
President Obama, you are a man of justice and great influence—as a leader of great morality who promotes peace and justice around the world, and as the leader of one of Ethiopia’s most important allies. This is why I am turning again to you now, with the hope that you will intervene and help secure my father’s freedom. My greatest wish for the New Year is for him to be free and with his family.
In honor of your trip to Ethiopia last summer, the government released numerous political prisoners. I call on you now to wield your influence, and help bring my father home.
May courage be upon you.
Obok Okello Akway