According to media reports, Bekele Gerba, other imprisoned leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and other Oromo political prisoners are on a hunger strike in Ma’ekelawi, the notorious prison in Addis Ababa. The report said the political prisoners started their strike on Friday, January 22, 2016, and have vowed to continue the strike until their demands are met. Some of their demands, which they have communicated to the prison’s officials, include:
1) access to legal counsels and visitations by family as guaranteed by the Constitution and internationally accepted rights of prisoners;
2) cessation of torture of political prisoners in Ma’ekelawi;
3) access to proper medical care for all political prisoners.
It has not been possible to verify how many political prisoners are taking part in the strike. However, it has been confirmed that the following leaders of OFC are part of it: Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, Desta Dinka, Addisu Bulala and others. Since November 2015, thousands of Oromos have been taken to Ma’ekelawi in connection with the ongoing Oromo Protests against the lack of adequate self-rule for Oromia (of which the Master Plan is an example), and the decades-old marginalization of the Oromo people in the political, economic, social, linguistic and cultural spheres in Ethiopia as a whole. In addition to those thousands arrested in prisons and concentration camps across Oromia and Ethiopia, more than 160 Oromo persons were killed, and thousands of Oromo persons have been wounded by the Ethiopian Federal armed forces – including tens of Oromo children.
It is to be remembered that the Ethiopian government brought Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, Addisu Bulala and others to a federal court in central Addis Ababa on January 22, 2016 (listen to the report in Amharic below) – this date is the same date on which the hunger strike reportedly began. Regarding this court case, many human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, accuse the Ethiopian government of using draconian laws to prosecute peaceful and legitimate political dissidents in biased courts to silence voices critical of the government’s violations of human rights and unjust policies.