January 27, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- The uproar over kidnapped university students is intensifying internationally, with many demanding to know the status of these students and what the government is doing to bring them back home. According to various reports, 17 Dembi Dollo University students were kidnapped on December 3, 2019, when they were traveling to Addis Ababa via Gambella. Petitions and media campaigns by activists and professionals are in full swing currently to highlight the plight of these students.
According to one of the students who escaped the kidnapping, Asmira Shumiye, after the students saw a notice that said they must evacuate from University grounds (apparently posted by some Oromia activists), they decided to go home. However, the road to Addis Ababa was closed and they made the fateful decision to go to Gambella and then to Addis Ababa. However, before they reached Gambella, their vehicle was stopped and they were asked to step out at gunpoint. According to her, the abductors selected only the students from the Amhara regional state of Ethiopia. The kidnapped students were then taken to a nearby jungle walking in full view of the locals.
According to Asmira, some of the kidnapped students could not walk and collapsed on the way. While the captors were trying to have them get up and continue walking, the girl who escaped walked away unnoticed. After spending a couple of nights in the jungle, she came out of hiding and found an older Oromo man who, she said, spoke little Amharic. After she explained the situation, the man, who she said cried, helped her escape the area and come home safely.
The number of kidnapped students, according to the petition drive currently circulating and NaMA (National Movement of Amhara) is 17, all Amhara students, 14 of them women. The list of the abducted students as provided by NaMA is given at the end of this article.
According to the activists working to free the girls from captivity, the alleged kidnappers belong to the armed wing of the Oromia Liberation Front called OLF Shene. OLF Rebel leader Kumsa Diriba in the area told the BBC that his soldiers are not involved in the kidnapping.
Petition drives are circulating around the internet. One of them is #BringBackOurGirls!, collecting petitions worldwide to pressure the Ethiopian government to do something about it. So far, the petition drive has collected more than 15 thousand signatures and growing very rapidly. The Amahara Professionals Association based in the USA is also demanding answers and working to publicize the issue.
Speaking to the state-run EBC late on Saturday, January 11, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretariat Head Nigusu Tilahun said 13 female and 8 male hostages were released following continuous negotiations in which elders and members of the Ministry of Defence were involved. He said the hostages were set free without any harm.
However, parents and kin of those students who were taken captives by gunmen in Oromia regional state in western Ethiopia said they have not seen or heard anything about their children even though the government announced the release of the hostages earlier this month.
The parents and families of the hostages have been expressing concern over the well-being of their children on various media outlets despite the announcements by the Prime Minister Press Secretariat that the captives were released and are healthy and safe.
There is fear among loved ones and activists that the abducted students may be victims of physical and sexual violence. According to Asmira, “I received text messages from one of the female hostages who wrote that the hostages underwent physical intimidation, including rape,” she told the local media.
An international uproar is now building over the government's handling of this matter. Many are asking: where is PM Abiy Ahmed? Where are the female leaders such as Sahle-Work Zewdie, the first female president of Ethiopia, and Supreme Court Justice Meaza Ashenafi, an Ethiopian lawyer often described as a prominent women's rights activist.
Many of the Oromo political leaders are also silent, leaders who have cried injustice for years, only to condone one when they are in power, say observers.
The activists trying to free the abductees are especially furious at the Amhara regional government, for its callous handling of the matter and for doing so little for so long. It is to be noted that, on January 6, 2019, the President of Amhara state, Temesgen Tiruneh, disclosed the abduction of just 4 students, fully one month after the incident.
Since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister, Ethiopia has gone through a series of security crises in different parts of the country, but mostly in and around the Oromia state. Many blame the inaction by local and central governments due to political considerations for the worsening situation there. In some reports, local governments in Oromia have been accused of hiding local crimes and criminals, rather than upholding the rule of law.
On several occasions, the federal government has claimed that they have brought criminals and human rights violators to justice. However, it is unknown how many of them have been fully prosecuted and sentenced.
Here follows the list of abducted students in Oromia region, circulated by NaMA:
1) Belaynesh Mekonnen Demlew (Agricultural economics Department 1st-year student )
2) Samrawit Kere Asres (2ndJournalism student)
3) Zewde Girmaw Fetene (3rd-year Agricultural economics)
4) Mulu Zewdie Adane (2nd-year Sociology )
5) Girmache Yeneneh Adugna (3rd-year Biotechnology)
6) Sergut Tibebu (1st-year Natural Science)
7) Tigist Mesay Mezgebu (Grade 12 preparatory)
8) Meseret Kefyalew Molla (3rd-year natural science)
9) Zemed Berhan Dessie (3rd-year natural science)
10) Monemn Belay Abebe (2nd-year journalism)
11) Tenalem Mulate Kebede (2nd-year Agricultural economics)
12) Eskalehu Chekol Tegegne (3rd-year Chemistry)
13) Asabe Ayele Alem (3rd year Plant Science)
14) Bitewligne Atinafu Alemu (3rd-year Computer Science)
15) Girmaw Habte Emegnew (3rd-year mechanical engineering)
16) Atalelegne Getnet Derese (1st-year natural science )
17) Kindye Molla Gebeyehu (1st-year natural science)
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