Mass arrests, ethnic profiling haunt Ethiopia

The arrest of two prominent professors in Ethiopia’s capital has given new focus to allegations that the authorities are engaged in a ruthless crackdown against ethnic Tigrayan civilians, as the country plunges deeper into a conflict that began over a year ago in the northern state of Tigray.

Professors Assefa Fissiha and Mehari Redeai both teach law at Addis Ababa University.

Although there has been no official confirmation of their arrests, multiple sources have told the BBC they were detained by the security forces for allegedly breaching the terms of Ethiopia’s state of emergency, imposed as Tigrayan forces advanced towards the capital earlier this month.

Speaking by phone, family friends who confirmed the Tigrayan professors’ arrests sounded fearful, anxious to remain anonymous in case they too faced detention in a country where, according to local and international human rights groups, at least 1,000 Tigrayans, and possibly many more, have been arrested in recent days.ave been arrested in recent days.

Other Tigrayans, again speaking on condition of anonymity, have described a nervous mood in the capital, with people seeking to hide their accents and identities, or being forced out of jobs because of their ethnicity.

Among those allegedly affected are doctors, artists and policemen.

“I never imagined seeing such harassment in the city of my birth,” one man told the BBC, saying he had watched 10 armed police officers taking his elderly father away from his home more than a week ago.

Ethiopian officials have defended the crackdown.

The head of the Ethiopian government communication office, Legesse Tullu, told local media that the arrests made under the state of emergency were not based on the ethnic identities of individuals.

Individuals who are suspected of supporting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its ally the Oromo Liberation Army, which are designated as terrorist groups, have been arrested, he said.

He also added that there are more than 500,000 Tigrayans in the capital but the number of people arrested is not more than 1,000.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has warned of a concerted attempt to twist the facts about the crackdown and the situation in Ethiopia more generally, tweeting about a “sinister” disinformation war against the nation and by urging Ethiopians to “reverse the distorted narrative”.

But international criticism appears to be growing. -BBC

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