The Federal Government says it is treating allegations that dozens of people have been arrested in Ethiopia in retaliation for protests by their relatives in Australia seriously, and it has raised the matter with the Ethiopian Government.
Human Rights Watch said at least 32 people have been detained in Ethiopia, after demonstrations by their relatives in Australia against a recent visit by alleged human rights abuser and Ethiopian regional leader, Abdi Mohamoud Omar.
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Australian resident, Shukri Guled, said his mother, sister and three brothers were among those arrested after he took part in protests in Canberra and Melbourne in June.
He said his mother and sister were released after a month, but his brothers were still missing.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable, it’s something that makes me feel that I am in the dark ages, not in the 21st century when human rights are paramount,” Mr Guled said.
He said during the protests, he and others were under surveillance by members of Abdi Mohamoud Omar’s delegation and pro-government Ethiopian community members.
“They were recording people protesting and taking photos and some of them they knew our faces, so immediately there were arrests back home,” he said.
Human Rights Watch said a member of Abdi Mohamoud Omar’s delegation had told protesters in Australia: “You will see what will happen to your relatives”.
Mr Guled said he fled Ethiopia after being subject to Abdi Mohamoud Omar state’s brutality.
“They put me in a military camp and I had been there for 16 months, there was torture, [people were] starving, it was cold, it was dark,” he said.
Abdi Mohamoud Omar, known as Abdi Iley, has been criticised by human rights groups for human rights abuses.
Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch senior Africa researcher, said when Abdi Mohamoud Omar was the head of security in 2007-2008, Human Rights Watch found that the Ethiopian army “were committing war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
“Extrajudicial executions, torture of civilians, lots of very serious abuses,” Mr Horne said.
Abdi Mohamoud Omar is now the leader of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State.
Ethiopia denies arrest claims
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said she was aware of the allegations of arrests in Ethiopia.
“We take these allegations seriously, and have raised them with the Ethiopian Government,” she said in a statement.
The Ethiopian Embassy in Canberra has denied the claims.
“Nobody can be detained in Ethiopia because of his/her relative’s involvement in protest during the Ethiopian delegation visit to Australia,” a statement for the Embassy said.
“This is a total allegation and cannot happen in Ethiopia.
“In Ethiopia, everybody has the right to protest, have freedom of speech and write, and has full right to exercise his religion and promote his culture.
“In short, the Embassy can assure you nobody has been detained in Ethiopia because of his or her relative’s participation in protests in Australia or somewhere else … the person who gave you such information was trying to mislead you to the wrong direction.”
‘Abdi Mohamoud Omar should not have been given a visa’
Ethiopia has been considered a success story in Africa, with thriving development and solid economic growth rates.
But in the last year it has witnessed growing protests about the repressive ruling regime.
Human Rights Watch said the Ethiopian Government used the tactic of arresting family members to try to silence dissent amongst the diaspora.
And it said the Australian Government should not have given Abdi Mohamoud Omar a visa.
“We’re in a very dangerous chapter in Ethiopia’s history,” Mr Horne said.
“A state of emergency has been in place now for the last couple of weeks with protests across the country for the last year, which has been in part because the international community has been so silent against the abuses — they have been afraid to upset their trusted ally.
“So Ethiopia too often acts with complete impunity when it comes to these sorts of issues.”