Ethiopians in Australia are calling for the immediate release of their relatives who were allegedly arrested by the Ethiopian government, after they staged anti-government protests in Melbourne, Australia, in June, reports the Guardian.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has echoed this call, insisting that the Ethiopian government should immediately release the dozens of people it arrested in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State following the Melbourne protest.
“It sounds astounding to think they would go to such extreme measures against relatives of protesters for something that happened in Melbourne, but we have seen these tactics employed regularly by the Ethiopian government,” Human Rights Watch Director Elaine Pearson said.
The organization revealed that at least 32 Ethiopians — most of them in their 70s and 80s — believed to be relatives of the Australian-based protesters were arrested in June.
Although half of the group was later released, the rest have gone missing and haven’t been heard from since the arrest, according to HRW.
The Enemy Within
On Tuesday, the Australian-based Ethiopian protesters said their incarcerated relatives back home were identified through photos that were taken by government supporters who attended the Melbourne rally.
Some of them also revealed that they have since been confronted by Ethiopian government supporters in Australia, urging them to make a video pledging their allegiance to Abdi Mohamoud Omar, the president of Somali Regional State, in exchange for the release of their relatives.
“After the protest ended, I got a phone call from one of my relatives who told me that my mother, who is over 70, and three of my brothers had been taken away in different parts of the country. My mother was in a different city, but on the same day they were all taken away by security services,” Shukri, an Ethiopian immigrant in Australia, said.
Although Shukri’s mother and sister were released after a month in prison, his brothers have not been seen or heard from since then.
He now fears for the safety of his elderly mother and sister.
‘Silence Won’t Help’
Shukri says he has requested that the Australian government use its international influence for the release of thousands of Ethiopians detained for participating in anti-government protests to investigate the existence of pro-government operatives in Australia.
Although he fears that his decision to speak out might have dire consequences, he believes that keeping silent won’t help.
“My brothers are already missing. I don’t know if they are alive or dead. Nothing worse could happen,” Shukri says.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it has already contacted the government of Ethiopia regarding the arrest allegations.
Since November last year, Ethiopians, particularly the Oromo people, have been staging nationwide protests against political and economic marginalization by their government.
Hundreds of protesters have died in the protests and thousands have been arrested, with the Human Rights Watch accusing Ethiopian security forces of using excessive force against the protesters.