Letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

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Re: Dire Situation of Prisoners of Conscience on Hunger Strike in #Ethiopia @SecBlinken @SpeakerPelosi @SenSchumer @RepGregoryMeeks @SenatorMenendez @RepMcCaul @stephlebouder @FredLTurner @mterrim @USEmbassyAddis pic.twitter.com/LtUqJyBOVK Click To Tweet

February 24, 2021

The Honorable Antony Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

RE: Dire Situation of Prisoners of Conscience on Hunger Strike in Ethiopia

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We, the undersigned organizations, write today to convey our deepest concern about the political imprisonment and ongoing hunger strike of 24 prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia. These hunger strikers include internationally known non-violence advocates such as Minnesota resident Jawar Mohammed and Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Bekele Gerba. We also express our alarm about the mass political imprisonment of Oromo opposition party leaders, youth, journalists, activists and others across Ethiopia, which are reported by human rights observers to be over 50,000 at this moment. These prisoners of conscience are facing trumped-up political charges (which have continuously shifted, and some have even been dropped), torture, and denial of medical treatment. The detainment of all leaders of the prominent Oromo political opposition groups, is an attempt to silence dissent ahead of elections, which are now scheduled for June 5th, 2021.

As of the writing of this letter, the prisoners of conscience are on their 28th day on hunger strike; a full week longer than Mahatma Gandhi’s longest hunger strike. Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba are both staunch advocates of nonviolent resistance. Jawar, a father and husband to U.S. citizens and a Minnesota resident himself, studied human rights and nonviolent conflict at Columbia University. He translated Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy into the Oromo language. Bekele, also a champion of nonviolent struggle, has been a political prisoner multiple times under the prior dictatorial Ethiopian regime. He translated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream book into Oromo during a prior imprisonment. Jawar, Bekele, and several other prisoners of conscience have been denied medical care, a flagrant violation of their human rights under domestic and international law. It is imperative to note that Ethiopia’s Attorney General, Gedion Timothewos Hessebon, has blocked court orders, five times, that called for the prisoners to receive medical attention. As a result, the health of many of the prisoners is in grave danger. Some have fallen unconscious, cannot see or walk, or are suffering from the onset of kidney failure.

Secretary Blinken, we strongly urge you to take the actions below, which will apply pressure on stakeholders to act swiftly to ensure the survival of the political prisoners and their release and participation in the political process.

We also call on you to provide transparency about what steps you will be taking to ensure the release of the prisoners of conscience and application of continual pressure on the Ethiopian government to stop state violence. Specifically, we urge you to:

  • Request the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia to check on the wellness of Jawar Mohammed and the other Oromo prisoners of conscience, especially to ensure that they are receiving court-ordered medical attention;
  • Publicly call for humanitarian attention regarding mass political imprisonment in Ethiopia and the denial of medical care;
  • Publicly call for the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia;
  • Directly urge Mr. Abiy Ahmed to answer the demands of the prisoners of conscience and to end the severe state-sanctioned violence in Ethiopia;
  • Call for the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to organize;
  • Call for the U.S. Congress to hold hearings on the state of human rights, state repression and the democratic transition in Ethiopia, and the upcoming elections in June 2021.

The assassination of the iconic Oromo artist and human rights activist Hachalu Hundessa on June 29, 2020 precipitated the escalation of the current crisis. Following mass protests regarding the assassination, the Ethiopian government initiated a mass crackdown against the Oromo, targeting and arresting Oromo opposition party leaders, members and supporters as well as artists, journalists and ordinary citizens. Mr. Abiy Ahmed committed in 2018 to transition Ethiopia into democracy when he released political prisoners and welcomed exiled political organizations and persons back into the country. It is abundantly clear that Mr. Abiy Ahmed has gone back on his promise and Ethiopia has slid back into authoritarianism.  Free and fair elections was one of the key mandates for the supposed caretaker government, but with the ongoing mass imprisonment of Oromo opposition members, there cannot be free and fair elections in Ethiopia.

In the months following Hachalu’s assasination, human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported on Ethiopia’s return to limiting free speech, silencing dissent, arresting journalists and opposition officials, and blocking and limiting internet access. Further, human rights groups have reported on security force abuses and extrajudicial killings of over a thousand civilians across militarily occupied zones in Oromia (i.e. Wallaga, Guji, and Borana).[1] And finally, as covered across all international media, the people within the Tigray region have been experiencing unspeakable mass atrocities and war crimes committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.

We fear that if the U.S. government does not intervene, Ethiopia and the broader Horn of Africa region will be irreversibly destabilized, and the prospect of democracy, peace, and security in Ethiopia will be irreparably lost.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Bay Area Oromo Youth Association
International Oromo Health Professionals Association

International Oromo Lawyers Association
International Oromo Youth Association
Jabdu Oromo American Women’s Council
Macha Tulama Association-USA
Oromia Global Forum
Oromo Alliance of Civic & Community Organizations
Oromo Community of Colorado
Oromo Community Organization of Washington DC
Oromo Legacy, Leadership, and Advocacy Association
Oromo Professionals Group
Oromo Sports Federation in North America
Oromo Studies Association
Oromo Women Association of Michigan
Oromo Women Organization of Minnesota
Oromo Women’s Association
Oromo Youth Association of Austin
Oromo Youth Association of Australia
Oromo Youth Association of Chicago
Oromo Youth Association of Dallas
Oromo Youth Association of Houston
Oromo Youth Association of Kansas City
Oromo Youth Association of Michigan
Oromo Youth Association of Minnesota
Oromo Youth Association of Ohio
Oromo Youth Association of Portland
Oromo Youth Association of Seattle
Oromo Youth Association of Tennessee
Oromo Youth Association of Washington DC
Oromo Youth in Charge
OromoProtests
Qeerroo MN
Qubee Atlanta
Qubee Minnesota
Shanan Gibee Association of North America
Team Free Oromia

cc:
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House
Senator Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader
Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Michael Arthur Raynor, Ambassador of the United States to Ethiopia
Congressman Michael McCaul, Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee

[1] Oromia Support Group, Report 54, Jan. 2021, https://oromiasupport.org/osg-reports/

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