Ethiopia has arrested a top opposition leader after he testified before the European parliament

Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture in October.
Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture in October.
Image: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri
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Ethiopian authorities have arrested outspoken opposition leader, Merera Gudina, after he testified before the European Parliament about human rights violations in his country where anti-government protests have prompted a harsh crackdown. Merera, head of the opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Congress, was arrested along with three of his relatives yesterday in Addis Ababa after his return from Brussels.

“Police arrested him in his house the same day in the evening. We haven’t been given reasons behind his arrest,” Gebru Gebremariam, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, told Reuters.

For the past year, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, have been protesting against the marginalization of their cultural freedoms and land rights. Merera has been an active advocate of the Oromo cause, often speaking to international media about the ongoing political crisis. Merera may have once been insulated from punishment meted out to other members of his party because of his high-profile position. Now, it seems that he and other top public figures who dare to speak out no longer have that protection.

Authorities haven’t said why Merera was arrested, but local media affiliated with the government had previously said the opposition politician had violating the rules of the country’s state of emergency, declared in October, by attending an EU briefing. The six-month state of emergency bans Ethiopians from discussing the ongoing anti-government protests or any activities that can be interpreted as inciting violence. At the meeting, Merera reportedly called for Ethiopia’s parliament to be dissolved, and for a transitional government to be instated.

Photos show Merara at the EU  briefing sitting next to Feyisa Lilesa, the Olympic marathoner who brought attention to ongoing anti-government protests in Ethiopia by raising his arms above his head, a gesture that has come to symbolize the movement. The runner is in the United States but says he is not seeking asylum there. Berhanu Nega, head of Patriotic Ginbot 7, a banned rebel group, was also at the meeting in Brussels.