A prominent Ethiopian opposition politician charged last year with terrorism faces “permanent health problems” after going on hunger strike for more than a week, his lawyer told AFP Friday.
Jawar Mohammed, a member of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, is one of around 20 suspects facing trial for terrorism and other offences in connection with several days of grisly violence that left more than 100 people dead last June and July.
The violence erupted after the shooting death in late June of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, who channelled Oromo feelings of political and economic marginalisation.
Jawar and Bekele Gerba, another Oromo opposition leader, have been on hunger strike for eight days, while the other defendants “are on their sixth day now”, lawyer Tuli Bayyisa said.
Their demands include improved treatment for visiting family and supporters and, more broadly, an end to legal and other harassment of Oromo opposition politicians, Tuli said.
“They said, ‘This is the only option that we have as far as we are in prison. This is the only means we have to show our peaceful resistance to what is going on in the country,'” Tuli said.
On Thursday the men appeared in court but were too weak to stand, he said.
“They were very, very weak. They have private doctors, and their doctors…. said their health condition is in a critical situation now. Unless the situation is reversed they are going to face some permanent health problems,” he said.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated but independent body, on Friday said it had visited the defendants in Addis Ababa and confirmed they were on hunger strike.
“Very close supervision is required to prevent any grave threat to their health and life,” chief commissioner Daniel Bekele said in a statement, adding that “reasonably justified demands of the prisoners must be addressed”.
Jawar was once seen as an ally of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s first Oromo ruler.
But he has since accused Abiy of being a poor advocate of ethnic Oromos’ interests and behaving like a dictator.
Jawar is one of several high-profile opposition politicians behind bars as Ethiopia gears up for long-awaited national elections currently planned for June.