Police arrested Merera Gudina and three others from his home in Addis Ababa late Wednesday shortly after his return from Europe, which included a Nov. 9 speech in front of the European Parliament in which he said tens of thousands have been arrested under the state of emergency.
“We don’t know his whereabouts,” Beyene Petros, head of the Medrek coalition of opposition parties that includes Gudina’s Oromo Federalist Congress, told The Washington Post. “In terms of political leadership, he has been around and operating above board, peacefully.”
Government spokesman Negeri Lencho said he had no information about the arrest.
Gudina appeared in front of the European Parliament with Rio Olympics marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, who sensitized the world to the demands of Ethiopia’s Oromo people when he crossed his arms in protest as he ran across the finish line in July.
Also present was Berhanu Nega of the Patriotic Ginbot 7, an armed rebel group fighting the Ethiopian government, which prompted calls for Gudina’s arrest by pro-government media.
The Oromo ethnic group, the largest in the country, have been protesting for the past year over their historic marginalization as well as corrupt local government and the confiscation of their farm land for factories. At least 700 have died in the ongoing crackdown.
On Oct. 2, a protest during an Oromo cultural festival turned into a deadly stampede when police fired tear gas into the crowd killing more than 50, according to the government — though the opposition maintains the toll was 10 times higher.
The incident was described as a massacre and prompted riots around the Oromo region and attacks on foreign and government-owned factories, farms and hotels doing millions of dollars of damage.
A state of emergency was declared a week later and since then the government said 11,000 people have been detained.
In a briefing of foreign diplomats on Nov. 17, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that the country has largely returned to calm since the emergency was declared and promised reforms to address grievances, including a more representative parliament.
There are no opposition members in the current parliament, which was elected in 2015.
Local and international rights organizations, however, have condemned the string of arrests accompanying the state of emergency, including that of journalists and politicians.
Two members of the Zone 9 blogging collective were rearrested after the state of emergency, as well as a newspaper editor.
Gudina spoke frequently with international media, including The Post, about the plight of the Oromo. While hundreds of his party members and most of his key deputies have been arrested, he felt he was safe because of his high profile and because he stayed within the narrow political bounds allowed.
“That’s what all of us are trying to do, play by the rules,” said opposition leader Petros. “What is different now from what he has been doing over the last 20 years?”