Bekele Gerba who at the time of his arrest was the deputy chairman of an opposition political party, Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) was released from an Ethiopian jail yesterday, March 31st.
Bekele Gerba, a former lecturer at the Addis Abeba University (AAU), is largely known as one of Ethiopia’s prisoners of conscience.
Bekele Gerba was first arrested on 27 August 2011 along with Olbana Lelisa, senior member of the Oromo People’s Congress party (OPC), who is still in jail. Both were arrested after having a meeting with representatives of Amnesty International (AI), who were expelled soon after.
Both Bekele and Olbana were then charged under the country’s infamous anti-terrorism law on a specific charge of being members of the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and inciting a secessionist rebellion. In Dec. 2012, Bekele and Olbana were sentenced to eight and thirteen years in prison respectively.
Bekele became widely known for his powerful speech after his sentencing in which he was quoted as saying: (partial quote) – “In my life time, I have opposed injustice, discrimination, ethnic favoritism, and oppression. I am honored to learn that my non-violent struggles and humble sacrifices for the democratic and human rights of the Oromo people, to whom I was born without a wish on my part […], have been considered a crime and to be unjustly convicted. If apology was warranted, I would seek it not from the court that found me guilty of a crime I did not commit but rather from my people […] for failing to fully speak to the depth of their suffering in the interest of the co-existence of peoples…”
Bekele should have been released from jail on January 19, 2014 on parole, but was instead remanded in jail in Zeway, some 160 kms towards the southern Ethiopia region. In February this year news emerged that Bekele was suffering from unspecified aliment. His daughter Bontu Bekele gave an interview to a radio station called Afuura Biyaa in which she expressed her fear of losing her father. She spoke saying ‘’more than 200 prisoners of conscience in the same prison are suffering from similar ailment.’’
The father of four is now reunited with his family, according to relatives and friends.