Ethiopia: Dissidents, journalists remain in detention over flag display

by Engidu Woldie
ESAT News (March 26, 2018)

Over a dozen members of opposition parties, journalists and bloggers who were arrested yesterday remain at a police station today, according to family and friends.

(Left to right) Temesgen Desalegn, Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage moments before their arrest with the flag in question in the background

Most of those arrested yesterday were recently released political prisoners. The list includes journalist Eskinder Nega, opposition politician Andualem Arage, three members of the blogger collective known as Zone – 9, and journalist Temesgen Desalegn.

They were holding a get together to pay tribute to some of the political prisoners released a week ago at the residence of Temesgen Desalegn when police cordoned off the place and rounded them up.

Police alleges that the detainees had displayed an Ethiopian flag, the original tricolor of green, yellow and red, without the controversial pentagram emblem, which many believe to be a copycat of the symbol of the “Church of Satanism.”

The pentagram at the center of the flag had become unpopular since its introduction by the TPLF regime shortly after it controlled power in Addis Ababa 27 years ago. Waving the plain tricolor flag without the pentagram during protest demonstrations and public gatherings; and displaying the red, yellow and green solid flag has become a sign of rejection of the ethnic dictatorship and a symbol of defiance against the regime.

Speaking from the police station to family members yesterday, some of the detainees said they were grilled by police about the display of the original flag.

Serkalem Fasil, wife of Eskinder Nega who lives in the U.S. with their son, said she hoped they would be released soon. Serkalem broke the news of the arrest yesterday on her Facebook post and was on the phone with Nega as he was taken to police station. She also briefly spoke to him while in police custody.

Tariku Desalegn, brother of Temesgen Desalegn, wrote on his facebook that the detainees were fingerprinted this morning.

Ethiopia is in a state of emergency declared for the second time in two years. Protests against a minority ethnic oligarchy has been going on for the last three years as security forces of the regime responded with brute force. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands detained. A considerable number of prisoners report torture by their captors.

The escalation of the crisis in Ethiopia led to the displacement of 1.2 million people a few months ago, mostly the Oromos in the country’s Eastern region.