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Open Letter of OSGA to Hon. Kevin Rudd, Australian PM, on the Death in Ethiopian custody of Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, after refoulement from Kenya

Posted: Hagayya/August 27, 2013 · Finfinne Tribune | Gadaa.com | Comments

The following is an open letter of the Oromia Support Group in Australia (OSGA) to Hon. Kevin Rudd, Australian PM, on the death in Ethiopian custody of Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, after refoulement from Kenya.

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Oromia Support Group in Australia
P.O. Box 38
Noble Park, 3174, Vic
E-mail: info@osgaustralia.com

Date: August 26th 2013

Open letter

Death in Ethiopian custody of Engineer Tesfahun Chemeda, after refoulement from Kenya

To: Honourable Kevin Rudd,
Australian Prime Minister

It is with sadness and anger that Oromia Support Australia Inc. OSGA reports the death of a young Oromo in Kaliti prison, Ethiopia, on 24 August, 2013. Tesfahun Chemeda was a student activist in Ethiopia and a political asylum seeker among refugees in Kenya, where he was granted refugee status by UNHCR. He was arrested with a colleague, Mesfin Abebe, by Kenyan ‘anti-terrorist police’ on 2 April 2007.

Although cleared by the anti-terrorist unit and by the FBI, the men were subject to refoulement to Ethiopia at the request of the Ethiopian authorities. UNHCR, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya and the Kenyan Human Rights Commission were told in court, after their application for habeas corpus that the men had been returned to Ethiopia, whereas they remained in custody in Kenya for at least two more days after the court hearing.

Tesfahun and Mesfin disappeared in detention in Ethiopia until charged with terrorist offences in December 2008. They were sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. [1] (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)

Tesfahun was transferred from Zeway prison to Kaliti, where he had been held in solitary confinement for nearly two years before he was killed. [2]

This is not the first time young Oromo men and women have been killed in detention. For example, Alemayehu Garba, partially paralysed with polio, was shot dead with 18 others in Kaliti prison in November 2005. [3]

Refoulement of UNHCR-recognised refugees from Sudan, Djibouti and Somaliland continues. [4]

How long must we wait for Australian Government and other western governments to stop maintaining the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in power? Over one third of Ethiopia’s budget is in foreign aid. Ethiopia receives more aid from the Australia than any other country in the Africa.

It is a shocking state of affairs and an appalling way to spend Australian taxpayers’ money. Oromia Support Group in Australia Inc. tired of hearing from officials that they take every opportunity to engage with representatives of the Ethiopian government at the highest level to express their serious concerns about human rights abuses and lack of democratic progress in Ethiopia.

We have been hearing this for years. When are we going to see an effective response by those who control Ethiopia’s purse strings?

If Australia is so committed to providing aid to Ethiopia, than at least we should insist on it being contingent on real, measurable benchmarks of human rights and democratisation and not the desk-based studies of government-controlled data which support the status quo in Ethiopia.

This should be backed by effective sanctions so that members of the Ethiopian government are prevented from travelling to Australia and other western countries and investing in property and businesses outside of Ethiopia.

Unless meaningful sanctions are applied, growing disaffection with the west, previously noted by former US Ambassador Yamamoto, is likely to mature further. Under the oppression of the Ethiopian regime, opposition voices are becoming more likely to find expression in the very movements which the support of Ethiopia, because of its cooperation in the ‘war on terror’, is meant to avoid.

The authoritarian regime in Ethiopia is a major cause of instability affecting the whole of the Horn of Africa. Supporting it and investing in it is a short-sighted policy.

Yours sincerely,

Marama F. Qufi
Chairperson,
Oromia Support Group in Australia Inc.
(For Dr Trevor Trueman, Chair, Oromia Support Group)

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[1] http://www.oromo.org/osg/Report_46.pdf, pp.43-44.
[2] http://www.opride.com/oromsis/news/horn-of-africa/3701-oromo-activist-tesfahun-chemeda-dies-in-prison-while-serving-life-sentence
[3] http://www.oromo.org/osg/Report_43.pdf, p.22
[4] For example, Badassa Geleta was among 18 refugees returned to Ethiopia from Djibouti on 31 December 2012 and detained in Dire Dawa. He was awaiting resettlement in Canada. Riyana Abdurahman, a 23 year-old teacher, was abducted from Hargeisa on 23 Novermber 2012 and imprisoned in Jigjiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia.

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