SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: July 08, 2014

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Makelle University

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Ethiopia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 8, 2014, Abraha Desta, a political science lecturer Mekelle University, was reportedly arrested along with three other prominent Ethiopian opposition leaders. Reports indicate that Mr. Desta was arrested and detained in Mekelle, and, as of this report, is being held incommunicado.

It has been reported that Mr. Desta’s arrest is a response to his involvement with the Arena Tigray party, a legally registered party, as well as political opinions he expressed on social media websites. No official charges have been made public, but it has been reported that he could face charges for terrorist offenses.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and incommunicado detention of a professor, apparently as a result of nonviolent expressive activity and his association with a legal political party, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is party.  State officials are obligated to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process and fair trial, including the right to counsel and the right to a fair and public hearing.  State officials also have a responsibility not to interfere with the rights to free expression and association, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Intimidation, detention or prosecution aimed at limiting free expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.


On July 8, 2016, exactly two years since his arrest, Ethiopian authorities released Mr. Desta from prison.