September 28, 2020

Ethiopia Announces Arrests in Prominent Singer’s Killing

NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia has said that two men have been arrested in connection with the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a well-known musician and activist whose death last month was followed by unrest in which hundreds were killed.

Attorney General Adanech Abebe announced the arrests in a televised statement on Friday night, saying that a third suspect in Mr. Hundessa’s shooting was still on the run. “We will continue to uphold the rule of law,” Ms. Abebe said.

She said the two men arrested had confessed to killing Mr. Hundessa, acting on the orders of an armed splinter wing of the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition group, with the goal of inciting ethnic tension and overthrowing the government. She provided no evidence for the claim, and the Oromo Liberation Front had yet to respond to the accusation as of Saturday morning.

Mr. Hundessa, 34, was shot on June 29 in a suburb of the capital, Addis Ababa. He was taken to a hospital but died of his wounds.

The singer and activist was a member of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, who have long been marginalized despite their numbers. His songs of resistance made him a hero to a generation of young people struggling for political and economic change.

After his death, violent protests broke out in Addis Ababa and the neighboring Oromia region. Officials said that at least 239 people had been killed in the unrest, during which buildings were burned and groups of young men carried out ethnically motivated attacks.

The government blocked the internet and arrested nearly 5,000 people, including activists, journalists and a prominent critic of the government, Jawar Mohammed. Tensions also escalated when the police blocked mourners from attending Mr. Hundessa’s funeral in his hometown, Ambo, 60 miles west of the capital.

The violence has posed a challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is overseeing Ethiopia’s delicate transition from authoritarian rule to multiparty democracy.

Mr. Hundessa’s music provided a soundtrack to a wave of antigovernment protests that began in 2015, which eventually led to the resignation of the prime minister at the time, Hailemariam Desalegn, and the rise of Mr. Abiy, an Oromo himself.

Since taking office in 2018, Mr. Abiy has introduced widespread political, economic and social overhauls, including amnesty for political prisoners and the legalization of banned opposition groups. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for such measures, and for restarting peace talks with neighboring Eritrea.

But the changes brought about by Mr. Abiy have also lifted the lid on serious challenges to his government. He has faced criticism from members of the Oromo community who say he has not done enough to alleviate their problems.

Mr. Abiy recently said that those who had killed Mr. Hundessa wanted to cause civil unrest and derail progress in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, after Nigeria.

Leaders and officials around the world have called on Ethiopia to refrain from using disproportionate force in dealing with the recent protests. The United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence, while the African Union chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, appealed for restraint from all sides.

Last week, hundreds of Oromo residents of Minnesota gathered in St. Paul to condemn Mr. Hundessa’s killing. Representative Ilhan Omar said on Twitter that she would “do everything in my power to ensure that the United States helps pursue justice for the killing of Hachalu Hundessa.”