Three Ethiopians are facing trial after trying to attend a workshop on food security in Kenya. The move is part of the Ethiopian government’s effort to silence critical voices using a draconian counterterrorism law.Indigenous and rural people in Ethiopia are one of the main targets in the current global farmland grab. Around one million hectares (roughly 2.5 million acres) have already been sold to investors, primarily in the fertile Southwestern province of Gambela, home of the Anuak indigenous people.
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On September 7, 2015, the authorities charged Pastor Omot Agwa, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele under the counterterrorism law after detaining them for nearly six months without charge. The charge sheet refers to a food security workshop held in March 2015, which was organized by Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO) with support from the international organizations Bread for All and GRAIN.
“These three men are the latest victims of the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on independent activists and effort to silence critical voices.” – Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch
The objective of the workshop was to exchange “experience and information among different indigenous communities from Ethiopia and experts from international groups around food security challenges.” Participants from Ethiopia were selected by ASO based on their experience in supporting local communities to ensure their food security and access to land. “Trying to give indigenous people a voice about their most precious resources – their land and their food – is not terrorism, it’s a critical part of any sustainable development strategy,” says Nyikaw Ochalla, Executive Director of ASO.
All three detainees were recently moved to Kalinto prison, on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after spending more than five months at Maekelawi police station. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented torture and other ill-treatment at Maekelawi. “These three men are the latest victims of the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on independent activists,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The arrests, lengthy detentions, and spurious terrorism charges bear all the hallmarks of Ethiopia’s effort to silence critical voices.”
About the detainees:
Omot Agwa Okwoy is a pastor at the evangelical Mekane Yesus church in Ethiopia’s Gambella region. Pastor Omot was also an interpreter for the World Bank Inspection Panel during its 2014 investigation of a complaint by Anuak indigenous people alleging widespread forced displacement and other serious human rights violations related to a World Bank project in Gambella. Before being arrested, Omot was filmed as part of a forthcoming documentary film about land grabbing in Ethiopia (“Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas” WG Films, 2016) in which he discusses his fear of being detained and tortured because of his activism to protect indigenous rights. See a clip from the film in the video below or by clicking here.
Jamal Oumar Hojele works for the Assosa Environmental Protection Association in support of environmental conservation in the Benishangul-Gumuz region. Jamal is accused of being a participant of a “terrorist group” and of organizing recruits to attend the Nairobi workshop. Ashinie Astin is a member of Majangier, an ethnic indigenous minority from the Gambela region. Ashinie is accused of participating in terrorist activities, including preparing a research document entitled “Deforestation, dispossession and displacement of Gambella in general and Majang people in particular.”
Why does this case matter?
Ethiopia is emblematic of a global wave of land grabbing led by governments, investors, and financial institutions that is violating human rights, undermining food sovereignty, and worsening climate change. Activists like Omot, Jamal, and Ashinie dare to stand up for and with vulnerable communities on the front lines of this assault. Their work on the following issues is invaluable to building a sustainable, healthy, and resilient planet.
YOU CAN HELP!
SHARE the campaign with your social media networks, using the hashtag #FreeOmot and follow Anywaa Survival Organisation on Facebook and Twitter: @AnywaaSurvival
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The campaign for the release of the Ethiopian activists is supported by Anywaa Survival in cooperation with the following organizations: