Tigrayans in Ethiopian capital fear for their safety after a crackdown

Passengers walk through a bus station in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Credit: Mulugeta Ayene/AP

NAIROBI, Kenya - Hundreds of Tigrayans have allegedly been detained in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, as the conflict between Tigrayan defense Forces [TDF] and the federal government takes a new dimension, probably to escalating levels.

In a detailed report published by Reuters, the police have been on the loose, targeting innocent civilians of the Tigray ethnic group, since the Ethiopian National Defense Forces [ENDF] lost Mekelle, the regional administrative capital of Tigray.

The detentions in the Ethiopian capital are the third wave of what dozens of Tigrayans, rights groups, and lawyers have described as a nationwide crackdown on ethnic Tigrayans since November when fighting erupted between the military and the TPLF in Tigray, the country's northernmost region.

Authorities in Addis Ababa have confirmed closing businesses owned by Tigrayans over alleged links with TPLF, otherwise known as Tigray Defense Forces [TDF]. The Ethiopian administration has often labeled TPLF "terrorists" throughout the operation in Tigray.

But Addis Ababa police spokesperson Fasika Fanta said he had no information on the arrests or business closures. Federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi said: "People might be suspected of a crime and be arrested, but no one was targeted because of ethnicity."

Ethiopia's attorney general has previously said there is no government policy to "purge" Tigrayan officials. He has said he cannot rule out that some innocent individuals might be swept up in arrests but that the TPLF has a big network in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia must err on the side of caution.

Officials in the prime minister's office, the attorney general's office, and a government task force on Tigray did not respond to requests for comment on the released detainees' reports of a wave of arrests, or on individual cases.

Tesfalem Berhe, a Tigrayan lawyer from a Tigrayan opposition party, told Reuters he knew of at least 104 Tigrayans arrested in the past two weeks in Addis Ababa and five in the eastern city of Dire Dawa.

The names were provided by colleagues, friends, or family members, and most of those detained are hotel owners, merchants, aid workers, daily workers, shopkeepers, or waiters, he said.

He had not spoken to the detainees directly and said he was not representing them although he was passing the information to organizations such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

"They are not appearing before the court within (the legally mandated period of) 48 hours and we do not know their whereabouts – their family or lawyers cannot visit them," he said.

Lidia Girma, deputy head of Addis Ababa City Peace and Security department, told Reuters the government had acted against businesses connected to the TPLF. "It wasn't random and has nothing to do with ethnicity. It was based on investigations," she said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seemed to have suspended ceasefire early this week, accusing TPLF of the continued attack on "innocent civilians" in the Tigray region. The TPLF had announced victory after ENDF, Eritrea troops, and the Amhara regional forces left most parts of Tigray.

The TPLF seized Alamata town in southern Tigray, which was occupied by Amhara regional forces. The two sides have threatened to go offensive against each other in the latest development, something which has raised concerns about the future of the region.


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