Residents of Bishoftu cross their wrists above their heads as a symbol for the Oromo anti-government movement during the Oromo new year holiday Irreechaa in Bishoftu, Ethiopia, October 2, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Ethiopian authorities have arrested over 11,000 people since Addis Ababa declared a state of emergency in early October following violent protests.
“Some 11,607 individuals have so far been detained in six prisons, of which 347 are female, in connection with the state of emergency declared in the country,” said Taddesse Hordofa, the chairman of the State of Emergency Inquiry Board, in a statement broadcast by the EBC television on Saturday.
Ethiopia has been the scene of political crisis with numerous outbreaks of violence over the past year. Addis Ababa has been engaged in a bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrations since last year.
The protests were triggered by a government plan to expand the municipal boundaries of the capital city into the central region of Oromia, a move that could result in farmers from the Oromo ethnic group being displaced and losing their land and property.
Oromia, with at least 27 million people, is the largest ethnic group and the most populous of the East African country’s federal states, surrounding the capital Addis Ababa on all sides. The demonstrations, however, were limited to Oromia and spilled into Amhara region, with at least 35 million people, in the north.
According to an August report by Human Rights Watch, over 500 people have been killed by security forces since November last year.
At least 55 people were also reportedly killed after clashes between protesters and police turned into a stampede in the town of Bishoftu in Oromia on October 2.
In a bid to curb the unrest, the current government, which has been in power for 25 years, declared on October 9 a six-month state of emergency, first of its kind, “because the situation posed a threat against the people of the country.”
In the Saturday statement, Hordofa also read a long list of alleged offenses committed by the arrested people, ranging from major crimes such as “attacking security forces using firearms” or “killing civilians and members of security forces” to the much more mundane “denying provision of public services” and “disrupting movement of vehicles.”
The announced figure of the detained protesters shows a huge rise in the 2,500 arrests announced by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in late October.