At least 140 people have been killed by Ethiopian security forces in the last two months due to a number of anti-government protests, according to Human Rights Watch.
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In Ethiopia, the largest region is Oromia, which surrounds the capital of Addis Ababa.
Since November, Oromos, who are the East African nation’s largest ethnic group, have taken to the streets to protest the government’s decision to expand its municipal boundary in to Oromia.
The proposed move has reportedly rattled the Oromo community due to fears that their farmers will be forced off their land.
The government’s expansion has caused mass protests, and even though these protests are described as “generally peaceful,” dozens of Oromos have lost their lives at the hands of security forces.
The protests come on the heels of being continuously shut out of Ethiopia’s political process; while their party, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), is also the largest party in the country, to date, it doesn’t hold a single seat in parliament.
Case in point, in Ethiopia’s last election in May 2015, ruling party Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front won every parliamentary seat, even though the OFC had a number of candidates.
And a recent disappearance has recently exacerbated fears in the Oromo community: OFC Deputy Chairman Bekele Gerba (pictured) has been missing since his arrest in December.
HRW Researcher Felix Horne writes of Bekele, “There had been fears he would be re-arrested as the government targets prominent Oromo intellectuals who they feel have influence over the population.
“He was first taken to the notorious Maekalawi prison, where torture and other ill-treatment are routine. The 54-year-old foreign language professor was reportedly hospitalized shortly after his arrest but his whereabouts are now unknown, raising concerns of an enforced disappearance.”
And others associated with the OFC have also been arrested, according to Horne.
“Other senior OFC leaders have been arbitrarily arrested in recent weeks or are said to be under virtual house arrest,” Horne adds.
The Ethiopian government has said that in spite of the protests, it will continue to consider incorporating Oromia in to Addis Ababa.