[By: Lincoln Tan]
NATIONAL-NZ HERALD NEWS
The Ethiopian community will hold a protest tomorrow opposing their homeland government’s crackdown on political dissent. At the Rio Olympics on Sunday, Ethiopian athlete Feyisa Lilesa turned himself into a political exile after he crossed his hands above his head – a gesture made by Ethiopia’s Oromo people to protest against the government’s attempts to reallocate land – at the finish line. “Feyisa Lilesa is our hero and we are calling on New Zealanders to join our protest, and urge the New Zealand Government to call on their Ethiopian counterparts to cease the senseless killings,” said protest organiser Liliy Meketaw.
The Auckland protest will be held in solidarity with a wave of protests held in Ethiopia over the past few months over the government’s actions in the Oromo and Amhara regions. According to the US-based Human Rights Watch, security forces have killed more than 400 Oromo protesters.
But this is a figure that the government disputes. The protest in Auckland will be held at Aotea Square on Queen St from 11am to 2pm. “The government has been ruling our country with agenda of genocide and ethnic cleansing since 1990,” Meketaw said. “It has divided Ethiopia based on Ethnicity and destroyed our rich history.”
There are about 1300 in New Zealand who identify with the Ethiopian ethnic group, and six in ten live in Auckland. Of those living in Auckland, the majority lived in the Whau, Albert-Eden and Puketapapa Local Board areas. Less than a quarter of the population are local born, according to Statistics New Zealand.
Earlier this month, the community here lost contact with their families back home when its government shut down the internet across the country for two days fearing that it was being used to organise demonstrations. There is only one state-controlled internet service provider there, and its parliament does not have a single opposition member. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has warned protesters that his government was obliged to ensure the rule of law, but did not elaborate what he meant by that.
After the race on Sunday, Feyisa, an Oromo, told reporters why he supported the protests. “The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC. “My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”