Who is a terrorist? My accuser or me?
October 16, 2020
In 2004, Gaddisaa Hirphaasa, a determined Qeerroo of his age, raised a question “who is a terrorist?” my accuser or me?” writing on the wall in his prison cell when he was suffering in the notorious Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector. Gaddisa knew that accusing others of their own behavior is a classic Ethiopian Government tactic. In the same year, the author of this article was one of the many political prisoners in this sector popularly known as Ma’iikeelawwi. Writing on the wall in prison was the only means by which an inmate preserved information and passed on to the next prisoners. In 2006, Gaddisaa, died in prison following torture and denial of medical attention. After years of denial and being at the core of critical human rights reports, the government of Ethiopia claimed the facility was closed down in 2018. Instead of keeping for history the image of this notorious detention facility and turning it into a museum, as it was, Abiy’s administration deliberately destroyed all that information on the wall by painting the whole facility before it opened its doors to the public from 6th – 9th September, 2019.
The paradox is still many of Ethiopia’s political prisoners including opposition leaders & politicians, journalists, protest organizers, alleged supporters of opposition parties, and many others—are suffering and being terrorized at an adjacent building that shares the same fence with Ma’iikeelawwi. It is called Third Police Station. Colonel Gemechu Ayana highlighted in his interview with many media that “The Third Police Station is a maximum-security prison where political prisoners are terrorized and tortured causing mental sufferings and physical deterioration to inmates. After suffering for a year in 2019 in this station, Gemechu was echoing the same question Gaddisa raised in 2004, “who is a terrorist?” my accuser or me?” Six months after his release, Gemechu was rearrested together with high-ranking OLF officials including Michael Boran, Shigut Geleta, Lemi Benya, Kenessa Ayana, and others after Hachalu Hundesa’s death on June 29, 2020. Another OLF executive leader, Abdi Regassa, arrested in February, 2020, is still languishing in various prisons and the police have been moving him from one place of detention to another to deny his family and his lawyers access to him. Ethiopian authorities continue to abuse the country’s anti-terror laws. Sixteen years later, the question of who a terrorist is still unanswered.
Who is a terrorist? My accuser or me?
The question of who a terrorist is, according to this author, depends entirely on the personal outlook of the definer. For Oromo people, members of the Oromo Liberation Army are freedom fighters, for Abiy administration they are terrorists. For Oromo people, Abdi Regassa, Mikael Boran, Gemechu Ayana, Yazew Kabada, Lammi Banya, Jawar Mohamed, Bekele Gerba, Amza Borana and many thousands of Oromos are prisoners of conscience, while for Abiy administration they are terrorists. On the other hand, burning homes with people inside and terrorizing civilians by government security forces in different corners of Oromia have become common occurrence . Such attack by security forces against citizens in the form of burning down houses to ash under the cover of law enforcement is underreported although ordinary people are witnessing daily as a routine activity. There is more than enough evidence that proves Ethiopian government targets innocent civilians, which is considered an act of terrorism. For example, on September 22, 2020 Abiy’s forces came to the village and started terrorizing the civilian population, and killed Taarikuu Gabayyoo Ejersaa in the presence of tens of people in an attempt to intimidate the population into total submission(Voice of Independent Oromia, Seyfe Nebelbal Raido , Oromo Diaspora Media (ODM) and Oromia National Media, ONM). They tied the dead body onto a car and pulled it on the street, finally cutting off his head and hanging it on a pole in front of a police office in Western Guji Zone, Surroo Bargudda district (Aaana), Hidhaa Kormaa village (Ganda). While showing the cut off head to the gathered people, they said there will be more such action. Many residents who saw this horrible terror interviewed by broadcasting media outlets told the media what was exactly happening before their eyes. This inhuman act and terrorism reminded us what happened in Arsi at the end of 19th century, in what has come to be known as Harmaaf Harka Muraa Aannolee, where Menelik’s army ordered those in attendance at the “peace” gathering to enter a narrow pass one by one and the right hands of all male that entered were cut off and tied to the neck of the victim. In the same manner, the right breasts of the women were also cut and tied to their necks. It appears the present Ethiopia security forces are repeating Menelik’s era brutal act of terrorism in order to cause humiliation, fear in the Oromo population.
Two other examples of civilian targets are: Security forces burning down farmer’s house in Guji, Oromia and cheer, dance and pose for pictures after setting alight the house of a perceived ruling party opponent, a suspected member/supporter of the Oromo Liberation Front, in Guji. Prior to that Amnesty International’s recent report revealed government security forces were committing horrendous human rights violations including burning homes to the ground, extrajudicial executions, rape, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sometimes of entire families in Oromia particularly in both East and West Guji zones. This is not an isolated incident where humans are burned alive with their houses and properties while actors are dancing to express their happiness in their action. On 22 June 2020, security forces burned down Mr. Yonas Hirpasa’s house in West Wollega zone, Gulisso district, Sanki Danno kebele. Since the attack happened with no prior notice, all of their properties such as stored cereals, furniture, stored coffee, and domestic animals such as chicken and sheep were all burnt along with the house. Local people stated that Mr. Yonas is one of the economically impoverished rural residents who has been striving hard to feed his family. Worst of all, he became homeless along with his family due to the horrific measure taken by the security forces. Earlier than this happening, eyewitness told ONN (Oromo News Network) that mother and daughter were rapped at the same time in the same room side by side by security forces while they killed a father of four children who was reading a bible at his home and refused to conduct burial ceremony.
Terrorism and Terrorist
The term terrorism has various definitions. In the 1970s during the conflicts of Northern Ireland, the Basque homeland and Palestine, the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” gained mainstream popularity although its origin can be traced back to the French Revolution of the late 18th century. The term is not only widely used but also abused significantly since the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. An American political philosopher Michael Walzer described “Terrorism as the deliberate killing of innocent people, at random, to spread fear through a whole population and force the hand of its political leaders.” Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.
In this article State terrorism is defined in the broadest sense and it refers to acts of terrorism which a state conducts against its own citizens or civilians. A distinguished sociologist, Professor Asafa Jalata, in his article “State Terrorism and Globalization” described state terrorism as a systematic governmental policy in which massive violence is practiced against a given population group with the goal of eliminating any behavior that promotes political struggle or resistance by members of that group.
Ethiopia State terrorism-When a Terrorist Labels Others as Terrorists
Dictatorial regimes, including the Ethiopian dictatorship, have been labeling their political opponents as terrorists in an attempt to cover-up the unlawful incarceration and elimination of their opponents. Ethiopian history is tainted with State terrorism especially when it comes to the Oromo struggle for justice and freedom from political and governmental tyranny. Ethiopia state terrorism involves the use of violence and intimidation by state officials and institutions against the citizens of the state to gain their submission to authoritarian rule. All sorts and levels of internal state terrorism including intimidation, in which the government tries to anticipate and discourage opposition and dissent, frequently through control of the media and profligate use of police force, even without presence of war are practiced in Ethiopia. Successive Ethiopian governments conducted terrorism against Oromo people and lie about everything concerning the Oromo people from Oromo’s historical origin to the history of their relationship with the Ethiopian empire.
Widespread terrorism and politically motivated assassinations are certainly nothing new for Ethiopia. Professor Jalata argued that “any state that engages in terrorism is not a protector of citizens; rather it violates civil and human rights by doing assassinations, mass killings, and imprisonments, often along with a display of corpses in the streets so that the remaining population will accept the violent state out of terror and intimidation.” Abiy’s government is not an exception. The killing and imprisonment of persons of intellect and wisdom, i.e., visionary and revolutionary figures, who are deeply involved in Oromo struggle are common and persistent in Ethiopia. The arrest and murder of Mamo Mezemer in 1962, was an act of terrorism against Oromo perpetrated by Ethiopian government. This has shown the continuation of tyranny by Ethiopian system to achieve some political goals: to divert attention from real issues and to maintain political power.
Westerners believed that Ethiopia appeared to have remained free of terrorist attacks because of the strength of Ethiopian security apparatus or military strength. Peoples in Ethiopia have very strong bond beyond the understanding of westerners or politicians. It is actually this secret bonding of the society that minimize the terroir in Ethiopia. Peoples, nation and nationalities, ethnic groups and religious groups in Ethiopia have not been receptive to any kind of extremism, radicalism or religious fundamentalism. It is a natural process that peoples in Ethiopia tend to identify first with their nation and nationalities or ethnic kin. Take Oromo nationalism, for example, with the self-determination objectives, where the Oromo people, with three main religions: Muslims, Christians and Waqqeeffata are geographically intermixed throughout Oromia. Muslim marrying Christian or Vice-versa is very common in Oromo society. Example, the prominent politician and human right activist Jawar Mohammed who is Prisoner of conscience, is a Muslim Oromo, born from Coptic Orthodox Christian mother and Muslim father, married to Protestant Christian woman. Another example: PM Abiy Ahmed, a protestant Christian himself, is the son of a Muslim Oromo father and a Coptic Orthodox Christian Amhara mother. This is not specific occurrences in Oromia, rather it is a shared understanding among the Oromo society, and other peoples in Southern Ethiopia. A real representative of diversity is reflected in Oromia. It is this diversity that have minimized act of terrorism in Ethiopia. The author fear that an act of government trying to bring cultural homogenization in Ethiopia will lead the country in some sort of controversies including activism in nationalism.
Doing awful acts and Blaming Others
When terrorism is committed by government of Ethiopia it is not called terrorism. The government calls it maintenance of rule and law of the country. However, the population instead of accepting the violent state as a legitimate regime, always stand up to defend themselves against such horrible terrorism. Successive Ethiopian government used many terms to abuse or denounce opposition groups. These include narrow nationalists, antiunity, secessionist, etc. However, state terrorism is a real threat to Ethiopia and peoples of Ethiopia. People are imprisoned or killed indiscriminately for the peaceful expression of their political, religious, or other conscientiously held beliefs, or for their identity, even though they have neither used nor advocated violence. In Ethiopia, more than any other entities, State is creating and conducting terrorism.
Emperor Haile Selassie practiced state terrorism against members of the civil societies such as Mecha_Tulama Welfare Association by conducting assassination against its leaders. The Marxist-Leninist Dergue regime performed state terrorism, after it toppled Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. Between 1976 and 1978, a Marxist government in Ethiopia killed as many as 500,000 of the country’s citizens in a bloodbath called the Red Terror. In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front EPRDF entered Addis Ababa and took control of the country. Since then EPRDF has been practicing terrorism against the civilian Oromo people and others. Prisoners were burned, flogged, hung by the arms, fingernails ripped out, and men had their testicles crushed. EPRDF transformed to the now Prosperity Party (PP). Terrorism has been continuing at an alarming rate since 2018, after Abiy take power. The burning of many Mosques in Amhara Regional State happened after Daniel Kibret’s, Advisor to the PM Abiy, radical statement regarding Islam and Muslim in his aired voice. Why Burning of Churches and mosques are aggravated during Abiy’s regime in various regional State? This needs comprehensive studies.
Since Abiy came to power in April 2018, the system is repeating a trend that has occurred after every regime change since the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974:
- Initially, new media flourish with the lifting of restrictions, but within a few years the new government is back to cracking down and attempting to put the lid back on what it opened,
- Political space open with free movements and office allocation, but one or two years later the new administration is returning to cracking down and trying to put the cover back on what it unlocked,
- People are allowed to join whatever political party they are alluded to, but a year later put individuals into prisons for joining the opposition parties,
- With the lifting of restrictions people are allowed to exercise their right, get the freedom of speech and gathering, organize the rally, celebrate their cultures, work with their language, talks about politics, and so on, but these all roll back within short period of time and those who exercised their right get arrested or killed.
To those who don’t follow the Ethiopian situations properly and steadily, these all occurrences after every regime change might look like a continuous democratic process in the country. But for the people of Ethiopia, this is a new old, what they exercised during every change but where such democratic progression evaporated away within a year or so. Many political prisoners and journalists have been charged under the Anti- Terrorism Proclamation (2009), which was used by previous governments to bring made-up charges against their critics. The latest round of arrests in the wake of the 29 June assassination of the renowned singer Hachalu Hundessa has targeted journalist, opposition political leaders, prominent activists and members of the opposition groups. The two largest Oromo political organization, namely the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) are hardest hit by present situation, including arbitrary arrest and indiscriminate killings (one of the criteria to define terrorism) happening to their members. One simple example is more than 28 leaders including the executive committee members of the OLF such as Abdi Regassa and Michel Boran are languishing in the prison. The engines of the OFC such as Bekele Gerba, Dejene Xaafa and Jawar Mohammed are charged with terrorism.
Unreasonably, a terrorist government continue labeling other terrorists. At the same time, the government is facing increasing condemnation for repressing media and repeating the authoritarian ways of previous Ethiopian governments, including the ongoing implementation of a controversial Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle dissent and gag journalists, including by imprisoning them. Instead of progressing and taking measures to address the challenges still faced by journalists, the government has been rolling back the progress made over the past year. “The use of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to arbitrarily arrest journalists and politicians is not intended to align with international standards but is used to harass journalists and opponents.
According to this author Ethiopia has had at least 150 years of arbitrary killings, harassment, imprisonment of journalists and politicians, and ordinary citizens. This time the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation being used against any opposition movements. The Dergue made no secret of this, its leader Colonel Mengistu talked openly about it in speeches on the radio and in the press, and Dergue agents often left the bodies of victims on display in the streets of Addis Ababa. Abiy publicly declared terror by ordering his military to confiscate property of Oromo and others by military forces. In a program where he unveiled the new currency notes, Mr. Abiy declared to local bankers and governors that anyone who holds Birr 1.5 million or more will be confiscated. If the defense forces confiscate it will be used to strengthen the defense forces. So, an act of terrorism which Ethiopian government conducts against its own citizens or civilians answers the question who is a terrorist question? Ethiopia government is a terrorist that labels others as terrorists.
About the Author:
Worku Burayu is a PhD holder in agronomy and an agricultural Research Scientist. He is a volunteer writer on matters of Oromo and Oromia affairs. He is part of the Oromia Fact Checkers Group, which can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org