Police in Ethiopia launched an attack on opposition party supporters in the Oromia Region on Saturday, killing one person and arresting and injuring scores more.
Just hours after the date for Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections was announced, the Oromia Liyu police raided the inauguration of an Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) office in Welenchiti, firing live bullets and tear gas, killing one OLF supporter who was a clothes vendor.
Later that day, police arrested around 30 guests at a hotel launch party in Burayu and drove them to a sports stadium where they were beaten and humiliated for hours.
“These brazen attacks show just how dangerous it is becoming to assemble and express political stances in Ethiopia,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa, Seif Magango.
“Raids on opposition gatherings must not be allowed to become a feature of the pre-election period. The authorities must immediately launch an independent and effective investigation into these attacks and hold suspects to account in fair trials.”
Following the attack on the OLF office in Welenchiti, the regional Liyu police beat up the gathered supporters and pursued those who fled, hitting them with sticks. They also immobilized a parked vehicle belonging to a local news crew, from the Oromia News Network (ONN), by shooting its tyres, then later moving it to a local police station with the journalists’ filming equipment still inside.
The second attack by the Liyu Police took place later the same day at the launch of a new hotel in Burayu. Police descended on the guests as the party was winding down, bundled about 30 of them into a police van and drove them to the Burayu Stadium.
Here detainees have beaten again, forced to do laps around the stadium on their knees and roll on the ground late into the night.
Hawi Haile Yesus Keneni, a female musician, was among those seriously beaten up in Burayu, sustaining injuries that require surgery. She told Amnesty International that members of the Oromia Liyu Police in green uniforms beat her on the head, hands and other parts of her body.
While the Burayu town administration has, on their Facebook page, dismissed the violence as a “brawl that broke out over a disagreement about the choice of song”, victims and witnesses told Amnesty International the party was over by the time the police arrived. One of the artists said he heard the commanding police officer at the scene accuse the detainees of being OLF supporters.
“It is outrageous that the authorities charged with ensuring the security and safety of members of the public can brutally attack people going about their business with no regard for human life. The Ethiopian authorities must denounce these attacks in the strongest terms and ensure such scenes are not repeated,” said Seif Magango.
The country’s parliamentary elections are due to be held on 29 August 2020.