Release Scholar-Activist Bekele Gerba

Release Scholar-Activist Bekele Gerba

March 16, 2017 – Scholars at Risk (SAR) is concerned over the arrest and ongoing incommunicado detention of Professor Bekele Gerba, a foreign language professor at Addis Ababa University and the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), who is facing terrorism-related charges that apparently stem from his peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association.

SAR understands that on December 23, 2015, Ethiopian federal security forces arrested Professor Gerba, a prominent Oromo rights activist, after entering and searching his home. His arrest occurred against a backdrop of protests and intensifying clashes between the Ethiopian government and supporters of the rights of the Oromo minority, over the government’s renewed implementation of its “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.” Sources suggest that Professor Gerba’s arrest was a reaction to the protests taking place across the Oromia region.

Upon his arrest, Professor Gerba’s family and witnesses were reportedly told that he would be taken to Maekalawi prison, where they could visit him in 24 hours. The day he was scheduled to appear in court, however, Professor Gerba allegedly disappeared and has since been held incommunicado. SAR understands that on April 22, 2016, an Ethiopian court brought terrorism-related charges against Professor Gerba and 21 others in connection with the protests. Prosecutors have since presented as evidence videos of a speech Professor Gerba gave at an August 2015 conference organized by the Oromo Studies Association and a December 2015 interview with a foreign-based, Ethiopian media outlet. SAR further understands that Professor Gerba has reported that he and his co-defendants have suffered ill-treatment during their detention.

SAR calls for emails, letters, and faxes respectfully urging the authorities to release and drop all charges against Professor Gerba; or, pending this, to ensure his well-being while in custody, including access to legal counsel and family, and to ensure that his case proceeds in a manner consistent with Ethiopia’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and free expression.

Release Scholar-Activist Bekele GerbaSend a copy to:

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P.O. Box 393
Addis Ababa
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Via Email: mfa.addis@telecom.net.et

CC: Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; Attorney General, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; President of Oromia Regional State; Special Envoy, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; United States Ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; United States Secretary of State; United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Scholars at Risk

Your Excellency:

I write to express grave concern over the arrest and ongoing incommunicado detention of Professor Bekele Gerba, a foreign language professor at Addis Ababa University and the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), who is facing terrorism-related charges that apparently stem from his peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. I respectfully urge you to release Professor Gerba and to drop all charges against him.

I understand from SAR that on December 23, 2015, Ethiopian federal security forces arrested Professor Gerba, a prominent Oromo rights activist, after entering and searching his home. His arrest occurred against a backdrop of protests and intensifying clashes between the Ethiopian government and supporters of the rights of the Oromo minority, over the government’s renewed implementation of its “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.” Sources suggest that Professor Gerba’s arrest was a reaction to the protests taking place across the Oromia region.

Upon his arrest, Professor Gerba’s family and witnesses were reportedly told that he would be taken to Maekalawi prison, where they could visit him in 24 hours. The day he was scheduled to appear in court, however, Professor Gerba allegedly disappeared and has since been held incommunicado. I understand that on April 22, 2016, an Ethiopian court brought terrorism-related charges against Professor Gerba and 21 others in connection with the protests. Prosecutors have since presented as evidence videos of a speech Professor Gerba gave at an August 2015 conference organized by the Oromo Studies Association and a December 2015 interview with a foreign-based, Ethiopian media outlet. I further understand that Professor Gerba has reported that he and his co-defendants have suffered ill-treatment during their detention.

I welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify our understandings. Absent this, the facts as described suggest that Professor Gerba has been arrested as a result of nonviolent expressive and associative activity, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is party.

I therefore respectfully urge you to release and drop all charges against Professor Gerba; or, pending this, to ensure his well-being while in custody, including proper treatment, and to ensure that his case proceeds in a manner consistent with Ethiopia’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, and free expression.

I thank you for your attention to this important matter, and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

cc: The Honorable Getachew Ambaye
Attorney General, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Email:justabr@ethionet.et
Fax:+251 115517755

cc: Scholars at Risk
Email:scholarsatrisk@nyu.edu
Fax:+1 212-995-4427

cc: The Honorable Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Email:InfoDesk@ohchr.org
Fax:+41 22.917.9220

The Honorable Hailemariam Desalegn
Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Email:mfa.addis@telecom.net.et
Fax:+251 11 551 4300

cc: The Honorable Abadula Gemeda
Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives

cc: Ambassador Girma Birru
Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United States of America
Email:ethiopia@ethiopianembassy.org

cc: The Honorable Lema Megersa
President of Oromia Regional State
Email:oromiaweb@ethionet.et
Fax:+251 11 552 4246

cc: The Honorable Rex Tillerson
United States Secretary of State
Fax:+1 202-647-1579

cc: The Honorable Patricia M. Haslach
United States Ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Email:pasaddis@state.gov

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