On December 1, 2016, Ethiopian security forces reportedly arrested Merera Gudina, a former professor of political science at Addis Ababa University and the chair of the Oromo Federalist Congress, following his return from Belgium, where he had spoken to EU leaders about alleged human rights violations and the current political crisis in Ethiopia.
Professor Gudina’s arrest occurred against the backdrop of significant unrest in Ethiopia. 2015 and 2016 have seen widespread, ongoing protests throughout the country which, in several cases, led to violence. These protests were initially sparked by the government’s announcement of a renewed development plan for Addis Ababa which demonstrators alleged would lead to large-scale eviction of Oromo people from their historical lands; the focus of the protests eventually expanded to include alleged violations of the rights of the country’s Oromo population more generally. In October 2016, after more than a year of demonstrations, Ethiopian authorities declared a six-month state of emergency.
Professor Gudina testified in November 2016 before the EU parliament, alongside two other opposition leaders, about Ethiopia’s current political crisis, and about human rights violations in the country. On the day he returned to Ethiopia, Professor Gudina was arrested in his home for “trespassing the state of emergency rulings of the country” – specifically for violating a prohibition on communication with “banned terrorist organisations and anti-peace groups.” As of this report, sources indicate that Professor Gudina is being held in Maekelawi prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and detention of a scholar, 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 23, 2017, Ethiopian public prosecutors brought multiple charges against Professor Gudina. The charges include violation of Articles 32/1/A&B, 27/1, and 238/1&2 of Ethiopia’s Criminal Code (ECC), in connection to accusations that Professor Gudina intended to overthrow constitutional order. He has further been charged with ECC Article 486/B for “giving a false and damaging statement about the government to a media,” and Article 12/1 of the current state of emergency directive, which criminalizes contact with individuals designated by the government as terrorists. If convicted, Professor Gudina could face up to ten years imprisonment. He is expected to attend a court hearing on March 3.
UPDATE: On December 15, 2018, authorities dropped charges against Professor Gudina along with hundreds of political prisoners. He was released from prison on December 17.