Three Ethiopian food, land, and indigenous rights activists,along with four others, were arrested at the Addis Ababa airport back in March, on their way to a workshop on food security that I had helped to organise in Nairobi where we were going to be looking at ways to help indigenous peoples’ in Ethiopia to protect their territories from the massive wave of land grabs for agricultural projects that the Ethiopian government and foreign companies have been pursuing over the past few years.
Efforts to secure their release have been ongoing since March through behind the scenes diplomatic pressure and lobbying of Ethiopian authorities. Four of the seven were eventually released without charges. We had to change strategies in September when obscene terrorism charges were brought forward against the three remaining detainees and we are now hoping that international solidarity and public pressure can help to secure their release.
READING, UK, 21 October 2015 – Five international organizations—
(ASO), GRAIN, Inclusive Development International, Bread for All, and Oakland Institute—have launched a petition asking supporters to denounce the Ethiopian government and its financial backers for the arrest of three Ethiopian food, land, and indigenous rights activists. The three activists, who face terrorism charges for attempting to attend a workshop on food security, face a court hearing in Addis Ababa on October 22.
In March of 2015, Omot Agwa Okwoy, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele were arrested on their way to a workshop on food security in Nairobi, Kenya, organized by the international NGOs GRAIN, Bread for All, and ASO. The three food, land, and indigenous rights activists were detained for nearly six months without charge and denied access to legal representation during that time. On September 7, 2015, they were charged under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.
The charges against Omot and the other activists claim that they are active in the Gambela Peoples Liberation Movement (GPLM) though it is not considered by the Ethiopian government or any other body to be a terrorist organization. The activists have no ties to the GPLM and there is no evidence linking them to the organization. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that the food security workshop in Nairobi had any connection to the GPLM. These charges were fabricated by the Ethiopian police and prosecutors, under Ethiopia’s highly controversial counterterrorism law, in order to intimidate and silence the country’s indigenous communities. The Anuak and other indigenous peoples in Ethiopia are struggling to defend their lands and resources against the incursion of large-scale land grabbing by foreign and domestic investors.
The petition asks supporters to denounce the Ethiopian government as well as its financial backers—the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the World Bank, which provide financing to Ethiopia through international aid packages—for the unjust imprisonment of these activists and call for the government to drop of all charges against them.
Omot Agwa Okwoy was an interpreter for the World Bank during its 2014 investigation of a complaint by Anuak indigenous people alleging widespread forced displacement and human rights violations related to a World Bank project in the southwestern Gambela region. Omot arranged interviews for the bank’s Inspection Panel, its internal watchdog, with Anuak who told World Bank investigators about beatings, rapes, and summary executions by Ethiopian soldiers. Soon after, government agents began hunting for Omot, visiting his church, his family, and leaving messages on his phone leading up to his arrest in March.
Instead of supporting Omot, his former employer the World Bank has said little about his case and continues to bankroll the Ethiopian government, as do the governments of the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Canada.
Ashinie Astin, from a Majang indigenous community, is a former elected member of the Gambela regional council. Jamal Oumar works for Assossa Environmental Protection, an NGO that promotes environmental protection and indigenous rights. Both Omot and Jamal are reported to be in poor health. Jamal was admitted for two weeks in a military hospital while the three were detained without charge.
The families of Omot, Ashinie, and Jamal are struggling to get by and provide food for their children after the loss of their primary income-earners. Omot’s wife Abang is currently living in exile, in a refugee camp in South Sudan with their two young girls under difficult conditions and without access to proper schooling. Abang, who had a surgery on her left ear before her husband was detained, has had deteriorating health problems and experienced anxiety and depression since her husband’s arrest.
Supporters can sign the online petition by visiting: http://www.thepetitionsite.
Donations can be made to support the detainees and their families by visiting:
More information and background on the campaign can be found at: www.anywaasurvival.org/
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