The following opinion piece appeared on AlJazeera.com; and it’s authored by Amb. Akbar Ahmed and Frankie Martin – both at American University in Washington.
In August 2011, Bekele Gerba, an English teacher at Addis Ababa University and prominent politician, met with a delegation from Amnesty International to discuss the human rights situation in Ethiopia. Gerba, a vocal activist on behalf of his largely Muslim Oromo people, was deputy chairman of the opposition party Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and a member of the executive committee of Medrek, the country’s main opposition coalition.
To the Ethiopian government, however, Gerba was a terrorist. Four days after the meeting, he was arrested. In November 2012 Gerba was convicted and imprisoned under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for association with the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which the government has asserted is linked with al-Qaeda affiliated entities.
According to organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, however, Gerba was guilty of being Oromo and talking of the plight of his people. Shortly before his arrest, Gerba had described the challenges facing his community, telling Voice of America “Anyone who speaks the [Oromo] language and does not belong to the ruling party is a suspect and can be taken to prison any time.” Gerba and other incarcerated Oromo (Oromo rights groups estimate there are around 20,000 Oromo political prisoners in Ethiopia) continue to spark protests in Ethiopia and across the global Oromo diaspora.