Activists heading for Food Workshop charged with terrorism

Nairobi – Ethiopian authorities should immediately drop all charges and release a former World Bank translator and two other local activists charged under Ethiopia’s repressive counterterrorism law after trying to attend a workshop on food security in Nairobi, six international development and human rights groups said today.

On September 7, 2015, the authorities charged Pastor Omot Agwa, Ashinie Astin, and Jamal Oumar Hojele under the counterterrorism law after detaining them for nearly six months. The charge sheet refers to the food security workshop, which was organized by an indigenous rights group and two international organizations, as a “terrorist group meeting.” The three were arrested on March 15 with four others while en route to the workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Three were released without charge on April 24, and a fourth on June 26.

“Ethiopia should be encouraging debate about its development and food security challenges, not charging people with terrorism for attending a workshop organized by respected international organizations,” said Miges Baumann, deputy director at Bread for All. “These absurd charges should be dropped immediately.”

Omot, of the evangelical Mekane Yesus church in Ethiopia’s Gambella region, was an interpreter for the World Bank Inspection Panel’s 2014 investigation of a complaint by the Anuak indigenous people alleging widespread forced displacement and other serious human rights violations in relation to a World Bank project in Gambella. He had raised concerns with workshop organizers about increasing threats from Ethiopian security officials in the weeks before his arrest.

The food security workshop in Nairobi was organized by Bread for All, with the support of the Anywaa Survival Organization (ASO) and GRAIN. Bread for All is the Development Service of the Protestant Churches in Switzerland. ASO is a London-based registered charity that seeks to support the rights of indigenous peoples in southwest Ethiopia. GRAIN is a small international nonprofit organization based in Barcelona, Spain that received the 2011 Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish Parliament for its “worldwide work to protect the livelihoods and rights of farming communities.”

The objective of the Nairobi workshop was to exchange “experience and information among different indigenous communities from Ethiopia and experts from international groups around food security challenges.” Participants from Ethiopia were selected by ASO based on their experience in supporting local communities to ensure their food security and access to land.

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