Bekele Gerba et al

Bekele Gerba et al project description

After coming to power in early 1990’s, the Government of Ethiopia unfortunately took an extremely repressive and authoritarian route of governance. Oromo people, being the targeted ethnic group over the successive regimes over the past several decades, once again, became the direct target under the ruling regime. The Oromo became the victim of systematic and widespread violation of their human rights under series of Ethiopian government’s policies, laws and machineries. For the last 25 years, the government systematically targeted the Oromo Students, farmers, teachers, women, children and all Oromo persons from different walks of life resulting in several thousands of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, unlawful arrests, detentions, torture, as well as the disregard for many civil rights including their rights to assembly, fair trial, education, opinion, religion, culture, education and others.  International human rights organizations including Oromo American Citizens Council (OACC), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Advocates for Human Rights and many more have documented the government’s violation of Oromo people’s international and domestic human rights.  See recent Report here https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr25/006/2014/en/

Bekele Gerba, age 56, is one of Oromo thousands enduring all kinds of sufferings and persecution in Ethiopia. A Professor and highly respected political leader of the Oromo people and all other ethnic groups in the country of Ethiopia, Gerba is a Professor of Foreign Languages at Addis Ababa University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  He has long been a political leader of the Oromo, and in December of 2015 when he was arrested, he was the First Secretary General of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), a political party.

Mr. Gerba was previously arrested and imprisoned for his political views and his opinions on the human rights abuses of the Ethiopian government.  In 2011, he was arrested and later charged under “terrorism” after meeting with and giving information to researchers from Amnesty International.  While he was charged and convicted under Ethiopia’s oppressive Anti-Terrorism Act, his only “crime” was to speak out courageously for the rights of the Oromo and all other Ethiopian people.  He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment and served four, being released shortly before the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Ethiopia in July of 2015. While in prison, he translated Dr. Martin Luther King’s book “I have a Dream” into an Oromo language (the third widely spoken language in Africa).

In August 2015, Gerba was invited by Oromo Studies Association (a US based multi-disciplinary and non-partisan scholarly and academic association of Oromo and non-Oromo) as guest speakers where he addressed conference participants of over 700 in Washington D.C.[1] Following his speech, he was invited by several US medias including NPR (National Public Radio)[2], congressmen, think tanks and other organizations to speak about his experiences in prison and future vison for the country. After returning to Ethiopia in mid September, Mr. Gerba and twenty-one other, some of them members of the OFC, were arrested by the Ethiopian government at approximately the same time and are currently imprisoned .

On December 23, 2015, Bekele Gerba and Dejene Tafa, the assistant secretary of the OFC, were arrested.  Similarly, Ashebir Beri was taken from his parent’s house in Ambo town where he lived. That month, a total of 22 OFC members (including Gerba and Tafa) were arrested and detained in the notorious central prison in Addis Ababa, Ma’lkelawi.  The government claimed these leaders were arrested for terrorist acts, but no evidence of such activity has ever been put forward. The charge document brought forward by the Federal Prosecutor is essentially based on the governmental allegation that Gerba et al mobilized Oromo people against the government with the motive to force the government to suspend the so called “Addis Ababa Master Plan”, a grand political scheme of the government that, according to the Oromo people, is designed to transfer the possession of land from Oromo to non-Oromo person, and further clear out the physical, political, and cultural identity or presence of the Oromo from Addis Ababa and surrounding rural areas and small cities.

Oromo American Citizen Council is particularly dedicated to advocating for Gerba et al as they represent the face of repression and violation of God-given rights under the current ruling government.

THE OBJECTIVE OF THE PROJECT

  • Trial Monitoring: We are engaged in monitoring the trial process of Mr. Gerba and his compatriot Oromo political prisoners
  • Detention monitoring: we are committed to closely following up the daily and weekly detention and health situation of Mr. Gerba with a view to get first hand news and information out to the world.
  • Legal Representation: Mobilizing and providing resources to enable the legal representation of Mr. Gerba before regional and international tribunals and all available legal platforms including before African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights located in the Gambia with a clear aim find solution for Mr. Gerba and his Oromo compatriots in the same situation.

Bekele Gerba et al  International legal Defense Counsel

As a non-profit Organization, OACC is committed to establishing Gerba’s Legal Defense Fund and henceforth, works with Oromo and non-Oromo lawyers to provide the required legal defense and representation at international level.

[1] See http://oromostudies.org/images/osa/osa-2015-annual-final-conference-program.pdf last visited May 10, 2016

[2] Bekele Garba on NPR 

23/12/15: Bekele Gerba was arrested at 7:30 PM local time in Adama by 14 uniformed and armed Federal Police. They came with a paper calling for the arrest of “Bekele Gerba Tuji.” Bekele was reading at his desk in the company of his wife and son. He responded peacefully that this is not his proper name, that he had broken no law and refused to go with them or allow them to search the house. They brought another two intelligence people in civilian clothing who led a search of the house without a stated purpose against his objection that his rights were being violated. He was taken by force without a charge in front of his wife, son and three witnesses who were EPRDF members. He was put into the back of a Federal Police vehicle and taken away. At that point his wife was told not to follow them and that she could visit him at the Ma’ekelawi prison after 24 hours.

http://addisstandard.com/breaking-ethiopia-charges-prominent-opposition-member-bekele-gerba-others-with-terrorism/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/07/dispatches-arrest-respected-politician-escalating-crisis-ethiopia

30/12/15- Bekele Gerba taken out of Ma’ekelawi under the pretext of getting him to a hospital. Instead he was taken to a military camp near Tor Hayloch Hospital (Military hospital found in Addis Ababa across the street from the Head Quarter of Ethiopian National Military located in the area called Tor Hayloch.

18/03/16- Bekele Gerba was brought before the Court after several months in detention and in communicado. He wasn’t allowed to be visited by his son, wife, daughter and lawyer. Federal high court Arada 19th Criminal bench granted investigating officers additional 28 days and adjourned hearing to 15/04/2016. Charge wasn’t submitted as of yet. Police requested additional time to investigate. Bekele and his fellow Oromo men aren’t represented by any lawyer during this investigations process.

http://www.geeskaafrika.com/17784/prominent-opposition-member-bekele-gerba-others-terrorism/

22/04/16 – Bekele Gerba and his counterparts charged with various provisions set out by Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The central argument of the Public Prosecutor is that Bekele and his fellow Oromo men mobilized Oromo people into forcing the government suspend Addis Ababa Master Plan, a governmental policy which was secretly prepared, without any public participation, deliberation, to transfer land and expropriate Oromo ancestral land in and around Addis Ababa. At that point, over 150,000 Oromo farmers were already dislocated from the land without sufficient, effective, prompt and adequate compensation. Bekele Gerba et al were charged under anti-terrorism proclamation for what the prosecutor said is “mobilizing protest against the government”

http://www.geeskaafrika.com/17784/prominent-opposition-member-bekele-gerba-others-terrorism/

http://blog.amnestyusa.org/africa/heading-the-wrong-way-the-ever-closing-political-space-in-ethiopia/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/09/dispatches-using-courts-crush-dissent-ethiopia

http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/04/256745.htm#.VyPpoHzInSi.facebook

July 4, 2016: OACC recently set its institutional resources to follow up, monitor and report first hand information and facts as to the detention and trial of Bekele Gerba et al on a timely basis. Since their arrest several months ago, Bekele Gerba and his fellow Oromo men continue to face degrading and inhuman treatment in Ethiopian detention (Kilinto prison).  As an interlocutory, they filed a motion before the Ethiopian regime’s court against the prison administration. Accordingly, yesterday (July 4, 2016), the Ethiopian court summoned a trial to only notify Gerba et al that the matter is further adjourned. While time is of the essence in deciding over urgent matters of detainees, the court chose to postpone the matter to a later date against the demand of justice! OACC, reiterates its commitment to follow up on situations involving Bekele Gerba and his fellow Oromo men.

 

July 15, 2015- Bekele Gerba et al were brought to the Lideta court, 19th criminal bench. The purpose of today’s hearing was the supposed court ruling on the motion regarding their detention situation and right in the prison. The detention situation of Bekele and his fellow Oromo men are more or less characterized as “a degrading and inhuman treatment”. The prison house continue to deny them them sufficient medical treatment; as the health situation of the prisoners is in danger, both the court and prison administration refuse to allow them get a prescribed medicine from outside drugstore; while Dajane (one of the fellow Oromo) is denied access to be visited by his mother. In the face of all these violations of detention standards, the court further adjourned today’s hearing for no other good reason. The next hearing on this particular matter is 12/11/08 according to Ethiopian calendar.

 

July 18, 2016-Bekele Gerba Et al (Detention situation Update)— Prison administration OACC just learned that close member of Bekele Gerba’s family were told by officials of the prison “not to comeback again for visit.”  The daughter of Gerba was forced to be pushed when she was visiting Gerba. She was told that she is not allowed to comeback ever to visit her dad. Normally, in Ethiopian prison centers, family members takes food for their imprisoned relative on a daily basis. The center’s denial of Gerba’s daughter to not visit her dad entails that Gerba won’t have food to eat because she was the only available person in the family to take food for her father  frequently. This act of the prison house amounts to deprivation of food and water, the act strictly prohibited by all international instruments at the regional and global level.  OACC will continue to monitor and document the situation of Bekele Gerba et al.

July 19, 2016: Bekele Gerba et al (Court Ruling on Detention Situation): After undue and unnecessary delay on the matter that is threatening to the lives of the prisoners, the Federal High court 19th criminal bench ruled today on petition/motion filed against the  degrading and inhuman treatment and other forms of  human rights violations of the prisoners in Qilinto prison. The room in which they are imprisoned is 24 dark without any light or electricity, the door is unlocked  which means anyone can get in their room and beat or cause a body harm or injury at night when they sleep, and etc. They were also denied sufficient medical attention, e.g., Mr. Gerba was denied the right to buy medicine for his live despite a doctor’s prescription; Dejene Tafa was denied to be visited by his own mother and other close family members etc.  In the face of all these types of violations, the court today ruled against the petition by saying that all the claims raised in the petition are administrative issues and as a result, the court has no judicial power to entertain about these rights. Bekele Gerba and his fellow Oromo men are left on the edge in terms of their lives and safety in the prison house. The upcoming adjournment is scheduled to be 25/11/08 (according to Ethiopian Calendar).  OACC will continue to closely monitor the detention situation and court trials of these Oromo men and report to its wider public audiences and also to international community in due course.

Update July 20, 2016: (Hunger Strike) Bekele Gerba and his fellow Oromo men just started another round of hunger strike.

This follows the Ethiopian Court’s ruling against them yesterday (July 19,3016) on the petition they made regarding their detention situation. In the petition, they requested the court to order the prison administration to allow them medical treatment, buy a prescribed medicine (for Gerba), have their cells locked at night (apparently, their cell isn’t locked making themvulnerable to attack by another inmates, a common practice in Ethiopian prison and elsewhere), and allow a light in their cell (they are kept in a dark room without any electricity). Also, Dejene Tafa has yet to be allowed a visit by his mother. Further, Bekele Garba’s daughter was told by the prison officers not to come visit her dad anymore. They mentioned all this to the court only to get a response from the court who ruled yesterday saying “it’s not our issue. This is an administrative issue. Go back and discuss with the prison administration. The court doesn’t have a judicial power these matters.”

OACC would like to let know all members of Oromo diaspora and international community about the despair and extreme vulnerability of Mr. Gerba et al. We will continue to monitor the situation.

August 5/2016- Bekele Gerba Court Update: The Lideta High Court 4th Criminal Bench rejected all of the preliminary objections that have been raised by the defendants and their lawyer.

August 11/2016- Bekele Gerba et al Court Update:  At the court hearing today, Bekele Gerba and his fellow Oromo prisoners were brought to the court for what is known in the Ethiopian Criminal Procedure as “Plea of Guilty or not Guilty”.  The judge, representing the regime, asked them one by one if they have committed the crime stated in the charge. Bekele and his colleagues made statement that they have nothing to do with the fabricated charge of the regime. They also made statement refusing to acknowledge the court as it was set by the ruling party to hunt oromo leaders and activists under the masquerade of legality.

It has to be recalled that the regime’s prosecutor charged them with crime of terrorism and that they are responsible for the ongoing #OromoProtest where since November the regime killed over 700 Oromo protesters.  As of today, no single official from the regime is investigated or charged or prosecuted for the killings.

OACC will continue to monitor the detention and court trail of these innocent people and report to international community in real time.

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