FILE: Tigray conflict in Ethiopia: mass arrests and ethnic profiling haunt Addis Ababa

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Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict: mass arrests and ethnic profiling haunt Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA – The arrest of two prominent professors in the Ethiopian capital has shed new light on allegations that authorities are engaged in a ruthless crackdown on ethnic Tigray civilians, as the country sinks deeper into a conflict that began over a year ago in the northern state of Tigray.

Professors Assefa Fissiha and Mehari Redeai both teach law at the University of Addis Ababa.

Although there has been no official confirmation of their arrests, several sources told the BBC that they were detained by security forces for allegedly violating the terms of Ethiopia’s state of emergency, imposed as Tigrayan forces advanced towards the capital earlier this month.

Speaking by phone, family friends who confirmed the arrests of the Tigrayan teachers seemed apprehensive, anxious to remain anonymous in case they too were detained in a country where, according to local and international human rights groups, at least 1,000 Tigrayans, and possibly many more, have been arrested in recent days.

Other Tigrayans, speaking again on condition of anonymity, described a nervous mood in the capital, with people seeking to hide their accents and identity, or being forced to quit their jobs because of their affiliation. ethnic.

Among those reportedly affected are doctors, artists and police.

“I never imagined seeing such harassment in my hometown,” a man told the BBC, saying he saw 10 armed police officers taking his elderly father away from his home more than a week ago .

Ethiopian officials defended the crackdown.

The head of the Ethiopian government’s communications office, Legesse Tullu, told local media that the arrests made under the state of emergency were not based on the ethnic identity of the individuals.

Individuals suspected of supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) and its ally the Oromo Liberation Army, who are identified as terrorist groups, have been arrested, he said.

He also added that there are more than 500,000 Tigrayans in the capital but that the number of people arrested does not exceed 1,000.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned of a concerted attempt to distort the facts about the crackdown and the situation in Ethiopia in general, tweeting about a ‘sinister’ war of disinformation against the nation and urging Ethiopians to ‘reverse the distorted narrative “.

But international criticism seems to be on the increase.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights accused the Ethiopian police of abusing “too broad” terms of the state of emergency to simply round up Tigrayan civilians in Addis Ababa ” on the suspicion “that they are supporting the Tigrayan rebels.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has expressed a similar “serious concern” over the detention of “thousands of people” in the capital and the difficulty in collecting information on the treatment of those in detention.

The commission said many arrests in Addis and elsewhere were the result of “advice” from other members of the community.

The driving force behind this increasingly tense situation is the military offensive of the Tigrayan rebels, who – along with a loose coalition of other rebel forces – seek to advance on the capital, cut off the main supply routes and, ultimately, to force the Prime Minister to resign.

Tigrayans say Mr. Abiy lost the right to rule by waging a brutal military campaign in Tigray and enforcing a de facto humanitarian blockade of the region that has put millions of people at risk of starvation.

The Ethiopian government – which recently won a landslide victory in national elections – claims the TPLF has attacked neighboring regions and is now threatening to tear the country apart itself.

International mediation efforts have so far been unsuccessful and prospects for a ceasefire appear slim as the TPLF and the Ethiopian military, backed by regional security forces and ethnic militias, continue. to claim momentum on several fronts.

After a series of reported military setbacks, Mr. Abiy imposed a state of emergency and urged civilians to take up arms in defense of the nation.

But it is still unclear whether the TPLF – now fighting far from its home territory – will be able to seize, or surround the capital, or force a change of government.

The UK and US governments have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia immediately, warning that the security situation in Addis itself could change “quickly and with little warning.”

If Addis comes under increasing threat from rebel forces, the situation for Tigrayan civilians in the city may well deteriorate.

Relatives of a Tigrayan doctor detained in the town said they were unable to establish where he was being held.

There are reports that some families have been told they have to pay bribes to secure the release of the detainees.

“They are just abusing the decree and arresting people in order to collect money and profit themselves,” one man told the BBC. Five police officers were arrested for allegedly abusing their emergency powers.

“I have personally heard from several people I know [being detained]”said Norwegian academic and Ethiopian expert Kjetil Tronvoll.

“Local self-defense groups [have been observed] search for and detain individuals suspected of being Tigrayans and hand them over to the authorities.

“The international community has acted far too slowly to stop the deterioration of the security situation in the country over the past year.

BBC services Tigrinya and Amharic contributed to this report.

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