As Ethiopian protesters continue to demand equality and inclusion in the country’s economic and political processes, many have resorted to shaving their heads in solidarity with the incarcerated opposition leaders and civilians who have died in the protests, according to VOA.
The protesters, mainly from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic communities, have been posting videos online of themselves shaving their heads, which is a sign of mourning in many Ethiopian cultures.
This trend began after a letter was allegedly smuggled from prison by Oromo opposition leader and former university lecturer Bekele Gerba calling for mourning for those who have died in the protests, VOA has reported.
According to Jawar Mohammed, the Executive Director of Oromia Media Network – a dissident satellite TV channel based in Minnesota, USA, that broadcasts into Ethiopia – Gerba and other detained opposition leaders are calling for their supporters to mourn the martyrs and the hospitalized, and to stand with the families of those who have died in the struggle.
They have also pleaded with the Ethiopian government and the international community to stop the alleged “mass murder” of the Oromo and Amhara people.
Excessive Force by Police
Since the ongoing dissent in Ethiopia started in December 2015, about 500 people have died, A majority of whom are said to have been killed by the police, according to reports by Human Rights Watch.
Last month, the international human rights organization reported that at least 100 Ethiopian protesters have died since the renewed protests broke up in July.
The organization accuses Ethiopian police of using excessive force when dealing with hundreds of protesters in Oromia and Amhara regions.
Detention and Abuse
Since December last year, hundreds of Ethiopian protesters and opposition leaders have been arrested and detained for what the police say is engaging in unlawful protests.
Among the detained is Bekele Gerba, a former lecturer at the University of Addis Ababa, who is a great proponent of Oromo rights and a staunch critic of land policies enforced by the Ethiopian government.
The now-popular Oromo politician was arrested in December 2015 for terror-related allegations and charged with supporting an Oromo armed rebel group, allegations he has continuously denied.
He is reported to have gone on a hunger strike in July protesting harsh treatment of Oromo opposition leaders at Kilinto prison.
“They are kept in a dark room. The windows are very small. They can’t get fresh air and the doors aren’t opened for 24 hours,” Gerba’s lawyer, Abduljebar Hussein, told VOA.
The Oromo and Amhara people in Ethiopia are protesting decades-long oppression and isolation by their government.