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: February 14, 2021

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Jimma University

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Ethiopia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 14, 2021, police arrested and assaulted an Oromo student, lecturer, and staff person during a graduation ceremony at Jimma University. The student was later abducted.

During the graduation ceremony, Mohammed Deksiso shouted a statement in support of Oromo individuals. Police arrested Deksiso and charged him with inciting violence, reportedly beating him while in custody. Police also arrested Mulugeta Shitee, a lecturer at the university, and Wondimu Legesse Abba Dafar, the university’s head of public relations.

On February 23, the Jimma District Court ordered the release of all three. Despite this, they remained in prison. Dafar was eventually released from prison in March, and Shitee was released in April. Police charged Deksiso with alleged involvement in an October 2020 grenade attack despite an apparent lack of evidence. Deksiso was released on bail on April 1, 2021. Shortly thereafter, Deksiso was taken by forces in a car with Oromia Special Forces license plates. Oromia Special Forces are state police forces with military training. Deksiso has been missing since April 1.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, imprisonment, torture, and abduction of members of the higher education community in apparent retaliation of the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression—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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible, and must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of students, including by investigating and holding perpetrators of such acts responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, imprisonment and prosecutions intended to restrict or retaliate against expressive activity, when directed against members of the higher education community, undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Update:

On July 10, 2021, after six weeks during which his family was unaware of his whereabouts, it was reported that Deksiso had been released from captivity.

Sources:
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).
https://oromoprotests.org/starvingforjustice/
https://ollaa.org/ethiopian-government-imprisons-peaceful-student-activist-defies-court-order/
https://twitter.com/sorettisaleh/status/1361396190768754694?s=20
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/15/ethiopia-opposition-figures-held-without-charge
https://addisstandard.com/news-police-transfers-mohammed-deksiso-to-undisclosed-location/
https://addisstandard.com/news-police-in-jimma-defy-court-bail-transfer-uni-graduate-two-others-to-separate-police-station-rights-commission-calls-for-their-immediate-release/
https://satenaw.com/news-senior-staffers-at-jimma-university-accused-of-coup-attempt-graduate-student-remains-missing/