Meles Zenawi’s regime has been waging an ongoing hidden war against the people of Ethiopia.
This war is conducted in many forms: torture in concentration camps; extrajudicial executions and coldblooded killings; denial of humanitarian and development assistance; displacing poor farmers and giving farmland to the regime’s benefactors like China; denial of educational, business and work opportunities to the ethnic groups considered the regime’s enemies and; incarcerating people on doctored and vaguely defined crimes such as terrorism, treason, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
In recent months, the campaign of intimidation and humiliation to subjugate and break the free will of the Ethiopian people has grown in intensity and magnitude.
The Arab Spring in nearby countries has worsened the situation for Ethiopian people. It gave the regime an added pretext to carry out a preemptive war and destroy the societal fabric of the people. It is a very devastating war, yet highly under-reported and hidden. It rarely draws the attention of international media or even that of the often-active Ethiopian Diaspora communities.
The regime’s prime targets in this undefined war are the elders, community leaders, members of the Ethiopian opposition groups, journalists, students, and academics. Although the campaign of terrorizing the Ethiopian people is unmistakably national, the brutality and atrocity visited upon the Oromo people are by far the most devastating and one with lasting repercussion. Oromo elders, community leaders, members of Oromo opposition, students, and academics are being detained, tortured, handed long prison sentence on doctored crimes, and executed in greater numbers. Over 90% of Ethiopian prison populations are Oromo political prisoners.
Overshadowed by high profile detention of journalists and opposition political leaders, the detention and disappearance of lesser-known community leaders, elders, students, and teachers is getting little or no attention from international human rights groups as well as local and international media. As the regime’s repression intensifies, local community leaders, their families, and relatives are suffering in darkness from untold brutality of the regime.
To address this problem, at least in part, concerned Ethiopians from Ethiopia and Diaspora have established the Ethiopian Justice Forum. The Forum’s objective is to profile community leaders, elders, students and academics targeted by Zenawi’s regime. This week, we profile Mr. Legesse Deti Dhaba, the former Secretary General of Mecha-Tulama Self-help Association (MTA).
Mr. Dhaba, is held incommunicado at the Maikalawi prison (Meles Zenawi’s torture chamber) in Addis Ababa, the capital. Since his detention on August 29, 2011, the regime has denied all forms of access to Mr. Dhaba including visits by family, lawyers, and medical doctors. Family and close relatives of Mr. Dhaba are in a state of grief and worry about his health since both of Mr. Dhaba’s arms and hands were broken during torture and severe beatings in an earlier detention. Mr. Dhaba is the victim of the ongoing waves of arrests by the ethnic minority regime that targets Oromo cultural leaders, community elders, students and teachers.
Mr. Dhaba, 58, is an Oromo elder from Dandi District in Western Shewa Zone of Oromia region. Dhaba was born and raised on his ancestral homestead at a village called Kere Garie. He is a husband and father of five children, two sons and three girls. He is the only breadwinner for his family. Mr. Dhaba also supports his 89 years old elderly mother who lives with him. Mr. Dhaba’s father died while he was in Meles Zenawi’s prison.
Mr. Dhaba is a well liked and respected elder in his community and among the Oromo people nationwide. His knowledge of Oromo history and culture earned him a distinguished status among his peers. He is known for his narration of the oral tradition of the Oromo people including tales and cultural ceremonies such as weddings, christening, and thanksgiving (Irreecha).
It was Mr Dhaba’s knowledge of Oromo history and culture that prompted the leaders of Mecha-Tulama Self-help Association (MTA) to approach him to be a member of the association. Mr. Dhaba was ultimately elected to serve as Secretary General from 2002 to 2003. Mr. Dhaba has been the chairman of History and Culture Committee, a group responsible for organizing the annual Oromo Thanksgiving and other cultural events.
Mr. Dhaba is a resourceful person with all rounded personality. He is also a trained accountant economist, and aviation technician. In fact, until his detention, Mr. Dhaba was working for MIDROC Aviation, the aviation wing of MIDROC Ethiopia, a conglomerate of over 30 companies owned and operated by the Saudi billionaire, Mohammed Al-Amoudi, a close ally of Meles Zenawi. Mr. Dhaba is a highly regarded employee at MIDROC Aviation and well liked by his colleagues.
Mr. Dhaba was detained on August 24, 2011 on his way home from Gubaa ceremony in Dandi District. Gubaa is one of the oldest Oromo traditional holidays celebrated at the beginning of the New Year in early September. As a local elder, he was invited to the event to give prayers at the ceremony. At the time of his detention, Mr. Dhaba was with Mr. Mulugeta Rikitu, Director of Private School and Board Member of MTA; and a 3rd year Information Technology Student at Addis Ababa University, Sisay Serbesa. They were all detained at Ginichi town police station, the capital of Dandi District.
The next day, August 25, 2011, alarmed by the unlawful detention of Mr. Dhaba and his companions, relatives and family members contacted local lawyers. Their lawyers immediately filed a habeas corpus petition asking the court to release them citing lack of a probable cause for their arrest without a warrant. The district court ordered the regime’s security agents to present the detainees before the court and reviewed the petition of the detainees. After reviewing the petition, the District Court ordered the release of the detainees clearing them of any wrongdoing. The police defied the court order and refused to release the detainees.
On August 26, 2011, lawyers of the detainees filed a petition at the district court of Dandi District asking the court to enforce its order on the release of the detainees. The district court reviewed the petition and gave appointment to hear a contempt of court petition by the local police on August 29, 2011 at 2:00 P.M.
On the morning of August 29, 2011at 8:00 A.M. the unthinkable happened. The Meles regime sent about 20 Tigrigna speaking security forces with machine guns, satellite phones, sharp shooting snipers, and military pickup trucks. Oromo speaking local regime agents were told to step aside. Tigrigna speaking forces then started terrorizing the local population with a show of force and sense of disdain for the local population using foul language against bystanders, according to locals who were at the scene.
At about 9:00 A.M, Mr. Dhaba, Mr. Rikitu, and Serbesa were thrown aboard a military pickup truck while being beaten and insulted. The district court judge never showed up for the hearing at 2:00 P.M. There was no law for him to enforce. The ethnic militias of Mr. Zenawi think they are above the law so long as Zenawi is in power. A frustrated local farmer told us “there are no laws that protect the Oromo people under this regime except gun carrying cadres who raid our villages, terrorize and kill our people.” Zenawi and his security forces might rejoice the humiliation of Oromo elders in front of their family, relatives and countrymen; but many Oromo youth also took note of what befell them under this lawless and brutal regime. This is a brief account of how the regime of Zenawi conducts its hidden and brutal war on the Ethiopian people. Mr. Dhaba, Mr. Rikitu and Serbesa are all held incommunicado at the Maikelawi torture center. There is a serious concern about the safety and well being of these detainees. The Ethiopian regime has well documented history of using torture on detainees, and extrajudicial execution of detainees in cold blood.