By Betre Yacob
The family of a Norwegian citizen of Ethiopian origin detained by the Ethiopian Government has urged the Norwegian authorities to exert pressure for his safety and fair trial. Okello Ochalla was seized in South Sudan by South Sudanese security forces and extradited to Ethiopia in March this year. And he was brought to court in June with charges of terrorism offences.
Mr. Ochalla is the former governor of Ethiopia’s Gambella region. He left the country in January 2004 protesting the ongoing human right violation in the region, and became a Norwegian citizen in 2009. Since he left Ethiopia, Mr. Ochalla used to speak against the atrocities committed by the Ethiopian government and was working for justice and human rights of his people.
Now as he is heading to another hearing, his family is concerned: it is not only about his safety but his life. They are afraid that he is being tortured, and could face death penalty. According to Human Right Watch, Ethiopian authorities subject political detainees to torture and other ill-treatment. It also accuse the country of misusing its anti terrorism law to convict oppositions and journalists. The law permits long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty.
In his letter written yesterday to government of Norway, Obok Okello, the son of Mr. Ochalla, says that if the Norwegian government does not intervene and demand respect of international law, it is likely that his father will be convicted and sentenced to death for wanting justice for his people.
“My family is not aware of any efforts being made by the Norwegian government, and as the months pass by, the family is becoming more worried. So we urge that the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly describe the steps it has taken to ensure they have done everything within their power to demand Mr. Okello Ochalla receive a fair trial and ensure his safety in detention by the Ethiopian Government” Obok Okello explains in his letter.
Obok Okello further pleads the international community to get back his father who is in the hand of the Ethiopian government. “My father is a good man who has always stood by the truth. Please help me in urging the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advocate for his freedom” he pleads.
Reports shows there is widespread human right violation in Gambela Reginal State in the name of villagization program in order to make way for large-scale land deals in the area. And the government has been accused of trying to silence voices coming out of this area and oppositions to its land policy in the regine.