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Protests escalate over abduction of university students

Protests escalate over abduction of university students

Protests escalate over abduction of university students

ETHIOPIA

Reuben Kyama  03 February 2020

Protests have intensified in Ethiopia over the abduction of more than a dozen university students.

With pressure mounting on the Ethiopian authorities to account for the students from Dembi Dollo University, activists claim the whereabouts of the students kidnapped some two months ago remain unknown.

An online Twitter campaign #BringBackOurStudents has sprung up on social media networks demanding answers from the government. A petition signed by more than 30,000 online followers has also been launched to mobilise well-wishers to help rescue the alleged abductees.

“Pressure is mounting on the Ethiopian government with protesters taking to the streets across Amhara region to demand the rescue of the kidnapped university students,” said Kidus Mehalu, an Ethiopian human rights activist via his twitter handle @KidusMehalu.

At least 17 university students were kidnapped in early December last year, allegedly by a faction of the Oromo Liberation Front. The students were seized as they travelled to the capital Addis Ababa via Gambella, local media reported.

Denial

But the armed group, which has been fighting with government forces in the western Oromia region, has denied the claims and instead blamed the government for the kidnapping incident, reports said.

According to a local newspaper, Addis Standard, 12 out of the 17 students taken hostage are from Dembi Dollo University.

Meanwhile, protesters have taken to the streets in various cities across the country expressing anger and frustration over the saga.

“The protesters are demanding … the immediate release of the abducted students of Dembi Dollo University and denounce the inaction of the government,” said Dessalegn Chanie, the chairperson of a grassroots human rights group, known as National Movement of Amhara (NaMA).

Female students

Most of the missing students are female, the reports said. The kidnapping incident took place in early December in Oromia region.

A university student quoted by Ezega News, a local online publication, said she escaped the kidnapping by a whisker.

“The kidnapped students were taken to a nearby jungle walking in full view of the locals,” the publication quoted the survivor as saying.

While the motive of the students’ abduction is not clear, analysts say the incident has raised fears of possible ethnic violence ahead of the country’s general elections set to take place on 16 August.

Cases of violence

In recent months, there have been increasing cases of violent attacks, mainly in the country’s Oromia region, an area predominantly occupied by the ethnic Oromos. The attacks have led to the deaths of university students and affected learning in various institutions of higher learning.

In November last year, two students were killed by a mob in Woldia University, according to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia.

“This escalated to more violence in Jimma University, Dembi Dollo University, Ambo University, Bule Hora University, Haramaya University, Dire Dawa University and Wollo University,” the association said in a statement.

Human rights officials say tensions still remain across the region while learning in higher education institutions has been disrupted.

Students living in fear

Some say university students are living in fear while hundreds have left the campuses in droves to seek refuge in churches.

Earlier in January, an Ethiopian official from the prime minister’s office said that 21 students from Dembi Dollo University were released while six remained taken hostage. However, close relatives claim they haven’t heard from their loved ones.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been praised for appointing women to prominent positions but in its silence over the recent abduction, it is violating their human rights, the Associated Press reported, quoting rights activists.

Last year, the Ethiopian premier won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and especially for his initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.


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