COURT PASSES GUILTY VERDICT ON FIVE OF THE SIX OROMO STUDENTS AS FRESH PROTESTS ROCK CITIES IN OROMIYA REGIONAL STATE
Opposition party Oromo federalist Congress once again denounces the Addis Abeba integrated Master Plan, excessive police response to fresh student protests
The Federal High court 19th criminal bench in Addis Abeba has today passed a guilty verdict on five of the six Oromo university students who were under policy custody since May 2014. Only one was set free.
Accordingly the court passed guilty verdict on first defendant Abebe Urgessa for “violating” article 3 of Ethiopia’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). The 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants students Megersa Worku, Adugna KEsso and Billisuma Damana respectively were told by the court they were found guilty of “violating” article 7/1 of the ATP whereas the 5th defendant student Teshome Bekele was told he was guilty of “violating” article 257/A of the criminal code. Teshome can appeal and receive a bail from the court.
According to Ethiopia’s ATP the other four will not be entitled for bail. All are requested to defend themselves at a hearing scheduled for January 19th 2016.
The arrest of unknown numbers of Oromo University students followed a May 2014 brutal crackdown by the police against university students who protested when a master plan for the expansion of Addis Abeba, the city originally home to the Oromo, was introduced by the federal government. The six students were arrested by security agents from various universities located in the Oromiya regional states. They were detained for a year and half without charges.
By the government’s own account, eleven people were killed during university student demonstrations in many parts of the Oromia regional state. However, several other accounts put the number as high as above 50. Student Aslan Hassen died in prison in what the government claimed was a suicide. However, many believe he was tortured to death. No independent enquiry was launched to investigate his death.
The 10th Addis Abeba and Oromiya Special Zone Integrated Development Master plan, which was in the making for two years before its introduction in 2014 to the public without consultations with those who would be affected by it, finally came off as ‘AddisAbeba and the Surrounding Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Plan.’
The government claims the master plan, which will annex localities surrounding Addis Abeba but are under the Oromiya regional state, was aimed at “developing an internationally competitive urban region through an efficient and sustainable spatial organization that enhances and takes advantage of complementarities is the major theme for the preparation of the new plan.”
However, university students in most parts of the oromiya regional state protested against the plan and the federal government’s meddling in the affairs of the Oromiya regional state, which many legal experts also say was against Article 49(5) of the Ethiopian Constitution that clearly states “the special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Abeba.”
The court hearing this morning came in the backdrop of fresh protests by high school and university students in several cities located in the Oromiya regional state. The fresh protests were triggered by the government’s renewed plans to implement the master plan. The protestors are however met by excessively armed police men. On Monday, three students at Haramaya University, near Harar, in eastern part of the country, were wounded when police fired live bullets against protesting students. While some say they have died, a report on Horn Affairs said they were in critical condition. Horn Affairs also quotes an unnamed official as saying “we are not supposed to wait until the situation escalates rather control it at the earliest possible moment. There is only one direction the situation could have gone – we know from past experience, and we have obligations to other students as well.”
Unknown numbers of students were also sounded, one while jumping through the windows of his dormitory in an attempt to run from the police. A video circulating this afternoon shows a chaotic and desperate scene as students were trying to escaping from charging police officers.
Several accounts on social media claim hundreds of students as being under police custody. However due to bad phone connections and lack of physical presence of our reporters in the ground Addis Standard could not independently verify these reports.
OFC denounces master plan, police response to protestors
Meanwhile, the opposition party within the coalition of four ethnic based parties, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) this afternoon once again denounced the proposed master plan and police’s handling of the ongoing protests by the students.
In a press statement senior members of the party gave to journalists this afternoon OFC said it will not accept the master plan; “our land is our bone, we shall not be evicted”, a statement said.
OFC made ten demands including the unconditional release of the Oromo students held under police custody; a demand for all buildings located in Oromiya regional state to be administered by the regional state and not by the federal government; a clear and inviolable proclamation about Oromiya’s special advantage from the Addis Abeba city administration; and for the government to retract the controversial master plan all together.
OFC officials have also denounced the excessive use of force by the police against unarmed students in the ongoing protest.