The Somali (Ogaden) region in Ethiopia, despite being one of the most oppressive places in the world, has largely managed to avoid international attention. Collective punishment is the norm rather than the exception. Abdi Mohamoud Omar, the president of the region, has built a reputation as an iron-fisted dictator whose repertoire includes mass killings, incarcerations and a culture of killing and jailing the relatives of his critics. To crush internal dissidence in the region, he unleashed his paramilitary, the so called Liyu militia*, which has a rapacious appetite for violence. With a notoriously low tolerance for opposition, Abdi Mohamoud Omar’s list of dissidents deserving of his vindictive reprisals is lengthy.
Many people have been forced to leave the region due to the horrific human rights violations that have taken place. Many of them now live in Western countries and want to protest against the wrongdoings of the president. But the president has built an overseas network of informants to spy on and silence these Diaspora critics. In many cases, the informants have Western citizenship and use the access and freedom that come with it to help prop up a regime that derives its sustenance from inflicting misery on its people. The bitter irony is that people who sought asylum in Europe, Australia and North America, and enjoy all the accompanying freedoms, are working hard to deprive others of the same basic human rights.
People have been forced to stop speaking out because they know that a simple peaceful protest could mean a death sentence for a relative in Ethiopia.
Thousands have been jailed without trial in the Somali region, and people want to speak out against the detentions of their relatives. But whenever people hold these peaceful protests in places like Minnesota, London, or elsewhere, they are harassed, taunted and threatened by the president’s informants. In a recent report released by Human Rights Watch, some of the testimonies of the victims of this appalling and systematic collective punishment are documented. A protest took place in Australia in early 2016 when Abdi Mohamoud Omar visited the country. Informants threatened to identify and report the protesters so that their relatives back home would be punished. That is exactly what happened. For those who took part in that protest, retribution was swift. Families and relatives were immediately rounded up.
The incident is not isolated; it is systematic and is happening all over Western cities. Informants attend community meetings and secretly record the speakers. They infiltrate rallies and record videos of protesters. They organize protests against the protesters and take pictures of demonstrators. They then send the information to Abdi Mohamoud Omar and his henchmen who then promptly mete out the punishment on innocent relatives who had nothing to do with the protests. Parents, siblings, cousins and other close relatives are immediately rounded up, incarcerated, have their property confiscated and sometimes are murdered. Rape, and the threat to use it against female relatives, is one of the most potent and systematic tools employed to terrify opposition. It is very common for critics to receive threats of rape against their sisters and cousins if they do not stay silent.
It is a despicable system that only thrives because of people’s silence. People have been forced to stop speaking out because they know that a simple peaceful protest could mean a death sentence for a relative in Ethiopia. The streets of these Western cities, where freedom of expression is sacrosanct, have ironically become dangerous because of Abdi Mohamoud Omar’s network of informants who are accomplices in systematic, well documented human rights abuses. Western governments must realize that this institutionalized violence is now playing out on their streets and boulevards. American, Australian and European citizens are now being tormented in their home cities. Their democratic rights are threatened by this regime’s instruments of tyranny, and their relatives’ are murdered, simply disappear or are incarcerated in notorious Ogaden jails without trial. This despite the fact that the atrocities committed by this ruler and his puppet masters are not new. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been reporting on their brutal violations for the past decade. The levels of violence cataloged by these organizations’ reports as early as 2006 are vertigo-inducing.
Informants, Liyu police operatives and regime agents have sought asylum in Western countries. This must be stopped. A campaign has been launched to dismantle their entire criminal network. The first step is to identify the informants. The second step involves legal and political pressure on authorities to hold these people accountable for their role in aiding and abetting the violence and human rights abuses committed by the government of the region. Those who sought asylum in the West who enjoy the benefits of democracy and freedom, who are beneficiaries of their host governments’ benevolence, must not be allowed to deny others the same rights to free speech and dignity. There will be sustained, relentless campaigns to hold them accountable and to ensure the European, American and European governments know who they are and what they are doing to helpless civilians. The Western governments should even revoke the citizenship of these people because they are abusing their privileges and use it to commit despicable violations of human rights. The streets of London, Melbourne and Minneapolis are no longer safe for the critics of Abdi Mohamoud Omar. But they will soon be made unsafe for his informants too.
Originally posted on Facebook November 10, 2016. Edited and published with permission.
*The Liyu militia in the Ogaden region, or the Liyu police, is run by the Ethiopian army, which in turn is run by the EPRDF. The President in the Ogaden region is the man between the Liyu police and the national army.