Ethiopia continues to carry out arbitrary detentions against dozens of ethnic Tigrayans in the country’s capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere, as rebels regained control of the war-torn Tigray capital last month, Amnesty International said on Friday.
The detainees have included activists and journalists, and some have been beaten and transported hundreds of kilometers from the capital, Amnesty said. The total number is likely to be in the hundreds, many of which are unknown, Amnesty said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray in November last year to imprison and disarm leaders of the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). He said the move came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner declared victory in late November after federal troops captured the regional capital of Mekele, but fighting continued and TPLF leaders remained on the run. At the end of June, the conflict took a fantastic turn when pro-TPLF fighters returned Mekele and Abiy declared a ceasefire.
The newly arrested Tigrayans outside Tigray began after that, Amnesty said.
“Former detainees have told us that police stations are filled with people who speak Tigrinya, and that the authorities have carried out extensive mass arrests of Tigrayans,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s East and South Africa chief.
The arrests should end and all prisoners should be “immediately charged with internationally recognized crimes and given fair trials, or immediately and unconditionally,” Muchena said.
Abiy’s government has previously refused to take part in ethnically motivated arrests. The Federal Police and the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for an inmate, who has since been released on bail, told Amnesty that his client was accused of having links to the TPLF, which the government considers a terrorist group.
A prisoner told Amnesty that police looted his snooker hall on the night of July 2 and “began harassing and beating customers” before examining identity documents and detaining five Tigrayans.
“They kept us outside and it rained all night. We also stayed there the next day on Saturday … We were 26 tigrayans arrested at the station that day,” the man said. Of these, seven were transported 240 kilometers east to the Awash Arba area in Ethiopia’s Afar region, he said.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a state-affiliated but independent body, said it also monitored reports of arbitrary arrests, business closures and “other types of harassment against ethnic migrants.”
The EHRC and rights groups have also expressed concern about previous rounds of arrests dating back to the beginning of the war.