ASO, BfA, GRAIN, IDI and Oakland Institute media release | 21 October 2015
READING, UK, 21 October 2015 – Five international organisations—Anywaa Survival Organisation (ASO), Bread for All, GRAIN, Inclusive Development International and Oakland Institute—have launched a petition asking supporters to denounce the Ethiopian government and its financial backers for the arrest of three Ethiopian food, land and indigenous rights activists. The three activists, who face terrorism charges for attempting to attend a workshop on food security, face a court hearing in Addis Ababa on October 22.
In March of 2015, Omot Agwa Okwoy, Ashinie Astin and Jamal Oumar Hojele were arrested on their way to a workshop on food security in Nairobi, Kenya, organised by the international NGOs ASO, Bread for All and GRAIN. The three food, land and indigenous rights activists were detained for nearly six months without charge and denied access to legal representation during that time. On 7 September 2015, they were charged under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.
The charges against Omot and the other activists claim that they are active in the Gambela Peoples Liberation Movement (GPLM) though it is not considered by the Ethiopian government or any other body to be a terrorist organisation. The activists have no ties to the GPLM and there is no evidence linking them to the organisation. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that the food security workshop in Nairobi had any connection to the GPLM. These charges were fabricated by the Ethiopian police and prosecutors, under Ethiopia’s highly controversial counterterrorism law, in order to intimidate and silence the country’s indigenous communities. The Anuak and other indigenous peoples in Ethiopia are struggling to defend their lands and resources against the incursion of large-scale land grabbing by foreign and domestic investors.
The petition asks supporters to denounce the Ethiopian government as well as its financial backers—the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the World Bank, which provide financing to Ethiopia through international aid packages—for the unjust imprisonment of these activists and call for the government to drop the charges against them.
Omot Agwa Okwoy was an interpreter for the World Bank during its 2014 investigation of a complaint by Anuak indigenous people alleging widespread forced displacement and human rights violations related to a World Bank project in the southwestern Gambela region. Omot arranged interviews for the bank’s Inspection Panel, its internal watchdog, with Anuak who told World Bank investigators about beatings, rapes and summary executions by Ethiopian soldiers. Soon after, government agents began hunting for Omot, visiting his church, his family, and leaving messages on his phone leading up to his arrest in March.
Instead of supporting Omot, his former employer the World Bank has said little about his case and continues to bankroll the Ethiopian government, as do the governments of the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.
Ashinie Astin, from a Majang indigenous community, is a former elected member of the Gambela regional council. Jamal Oumar works for Assossa Environmental Protection, an NGO that promotes environmental protection and indigenous rights. Both Omot and Jamal are reported to be in poor health. Jamal was admitted for two weeks in a military hospital while the three were detained without charge.
The families of Omot, Ashinie and Jamal are struggling to get by and provide food for their children after the loss of their primary income-earners. Omot’s wife Abang is currently living in exile, in a refugee camp in South Sudan with their two young girls under difficult conditions and without access to proper schooling. Abang, who had a surgery on her left ear before her husband was detained, has had deteriorating health problems and experienced anxiety and depression since her husband’s arrest.
Supporters can sign the online petition by visiting: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/413/231/786/denounce-the-arrest-of-ethiopian-food-land-activists/
Donations can be made to support the detainees and their families by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/ethiopia-land
More information and background on the campaign can be found at: www.anywaasurvival.org/resources/free-omot-campaign/
Nyikaw Ochalla, Anywaa Survival Organisation, UK (English, Amharic)
Tel: +44-79-39389796 | Email: [email protected]
Devlin Kuyek, GRAIN, Canada (English, French)
Tel: +1-514-571-7702 | Email: [email protected]
Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute, US (English)
Tel: +1-510-469-5228 | Email: [email protected]
David Pred, Inclusive Development International, Cambodia (English)
Tel: +1-917-280-2705 | Email: [email protected]
Tina Goethe, Bread for All, Switzerland (English, German, French)
Tel: +41-76-516 5957 | Email: [email protected]