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: December 23, 2015

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Addis Ababa University

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Ethiopia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 23, 2015, Ethiopian security forces reportedly arrested Bekele Gerba, a foreign language professor at Addis Ababa University and the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).  As of this report, sources indicate that he remains in custody in an undisclosed location.

Professor Gerba’s arrest occurred against a backdrop of growing clashes between the Ethiopian government and supporters of the rights of the Oromo minority, over the government’s renewed implementation of its “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.”  Protesters allege that the plan, which would expand the limits of Ethiopia’s capital city into parts of the surrounding regional state of Oromia, would lead to large-scale eviction of Oromo people from their historical lands, possibly without compensation.

Professor Gerba, who was convicted in 2011 and served four years in prison for being a member of Ethiopia’s banned Oromo Liberation Front, was reportedly arrested on December 23, 2015, after federal security forces entered and searched his home. According to reports, several other opposition party members were also taken into custody in a series of arrests believed to be a reaction to the recent protests taking place across parts of the Oromia region. Upon his arrest, Professor Gerba’s family and witnesses were reportedly told that he would be taken to Maekalawi prison, where they could visit him in 24 hours. The day he was scheduled to appear in court, however, Professor Gerba allegedly disappeared and was reportedly taken to a hospital.  According to reports, Professor Gerba is now being held incommunicado, is in deteriorating health, and his family members have been denied visitation. Details on any charges against him have yet to be made public.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and incommunicado detention of a professor, in apparent retaliation for his nonviolent exercise of the rights to free expression and association, 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 a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.\

UPDATE: On February 13, 2018, Ethiopian authorities released Professor Gerba from prison and dropped all charges against him.