Ethiopian opposition leader Eskinder Nega charged with terror plot to kill ex-Addis Ababa mayor

By Leul Estifanos

Veteran anti-ethnic politics activist accused of trying to incite ethnic and religious violence as part of alleged capital power grab.

On 10 September, federal prosecutors charged opposition leader Eskinder Nega and six others with crimes including training a terror group to assassinate the former acting Addis Ababa mayor and inciting ethnic and religious conflict to try and illegally take power in the capital.

Eskinder, a writer and politician who opposes ethno-nationalist movements and styles himself as a pro-democracy activist, has been arrested multiple times before his 1 Jult detention during a bout of deadly political violence. He was sentenced to 18 years for terrorism offenses, including trying to foment an ‘Ethiopian Spring’ in 2012 and released in 2018. In 2006, after the violent fallout from competitive elections the year before, Eskinder was imprisoned for treason, but released a year later.

The head of the Balderas for True Democracy Party, which is registered by the electoral board and whose stated mission is to protect the rights of citizens in self-governing, multi-ethnic Addis Ababa, is on trial at the Federal High Court with six co-defendants, two of whom are at large and four of who are leading Balderas officials. On 17 September, the charges were read to the defendants, who are in two groups. Lawyer Henok Akilu told Ethiopia Insight that the defense team did not attend the hearing as they were informed too late.

The charge sheet against Eskinder and four others says that since August 2019 they appointed themselves to a “caretaker” Addis Ababa council, attempted 14 times to initiate ethnic and religious conflict, and conspired against the government and the constitution.

Among the second set of charges, which also include Eskinder, are that they organized the training of a terrorist group in Motta, East Gojjam Zone, Amhara region, with the aim of assassinating former acting mayor Takele Uma and other top officials. The sixth defendant, Ashenafi Aweke, recruited and presented the trainees to Eskinder, the charges allege. They will also be tried for plotting to burn religious institutions to create chaos in Addis Ababa and overthrow the city government.

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The first group are charged under articles 32(1)(a) and (b), 35, 38, and 240(1)(b) of the Criminal Code. The two absentee defendants and Eskinder are also accused of violating articles 32, 35, and 38 of the Criminal Code and Article 6(2) of Proclamation 1176/2020 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

Yesterday, the Attorney General’s Office announced that Oromo nationalist leaders Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerbe would also be charged with terrorism crimes. Meanwhile, centrist politician Lidetu Ayalew, is being prosecuted for firearms offenses in an Oromia court.

According to prosecutors, the first five defendants in Eskinder’s case and their followers used fake Facebook accounts and other means of communication with the aim of provoking clashes between Amhara and Oromo and Muslims and Christians. When a site was designated in Nefas Silk Sub-City for construction of a mosque, on 12 August 2019, Eskinder, as self-appointed leader of the ‘caretaker’ council, ordered his followers to spread information that Takele is promoting Islam’s expansion and used words that were designed to provoke Muslims, the charges state.

On 5 February, after police and community members clashed around Haya Arat area in Addis Ababa over the construction of a church, Eskinder is accused of attempting to initiate unrest by visiting the location and telling the community that this is the work of Takele, and that the now Mines Minister is a “killer”.

The charge sheet says that on 10 April, at the headquarters of Balderas, Eskinder told supporters: “We will use every opportunity and pay every sacrifice including our lives to remove the government by 10 October [the original expiry of all governments’ five-year terms before parliament extended them in June due to the pandemic]. We are prepared for both peaceful and armed struggle. Sub cities which aren’t well organized should be accordingly organized.”

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In May, prosecutors say Eskinder told party members: “The election has been postponed. This isn’t a legitimate government and it will only stay in power after 10 October over our dead bodies. Alert the forces in and around the city to be prepared and we’ll have aid from our members inside the Orthodox Church.”

Moreover, the defendants allegedly used musician Hachalu Hundessa’s 29 June killing to stoke ethnic and religious clashes. The next morning, Eskinder and two other defendants told supporters that Qeerroos—literally, Oromo bachelors, but also the name of a youthful political movement that has been involved in peaceful and violent protests since 2015—are coming into Addis Ababa from multiple directions and they need to attack to make them retreat. Following the order given to youth groups by him and the fourth defendant, Askale Demese, Oromo and their properties were attacked around Kirkos and Kolfe Keranyo sub-cities and Tor Hailoch.

On 1 July, the day of his arrest, prosecutors say Eskinder told the second defendant, Sentayehu Chekol, a top Balderas official, to organize youth groups around Kirkos, distribute flyers, and engage in unrest. Allegedly, Eskinder promised 500,000 birr for the activity. On the same day, both defendants went to Bulgaria in Kirkos Sub-City and disseminated false reports that Qeerroos are coming to burn down Kirkos and St. Michael churches. That drove the churches to ring emergency bells, thereby fueling more unrest.

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Due to the defendants organizing attacks on Oromo, Tigrayans and Muslims, 14 fatalities and the destruction of more than 187-million-birr worth of property occurred, prosecutors allege.

Eskinder told the court that security will be best served by releasing him: “If the state is worried about public safety, the best thing for the public peace and security is if we got released and participated in the election. The election won’t be trusted by the public if we are excluded.” Later he added: “The entire nation knows we are political prisoners and since the attorney general is recently appointed I understand he will experience a lot of pressure from the top officials to bring the desired outcome.”

Sentayehu said: “Takele has been unlawfully handing over to individuals, lands, condominium apartments and identity cards in Addis Ababa. As politicians who stood for public interest, it is our duty to reveal and contest such illegal actions, but we never planned to employ forceful measures.”

The charge sheet says the seventh defendant, Fetawi Gebremedhin, was previously sentenced to death and escaped from prison. However, defense lawyer Henock told Ethiopia Insight that neither he nor his clients have any knowledge of Fetawi and suspect he may not exist.

The defense asked the court to release the defendants on bail. The prosecution protested, as the charges carry potentially more than 15 years imprisonment, and as there is a possibility of further crimes since the defendants are willing to give their lives to overthrow the government. The defense objected that the charges carry a minimum of 10 years and bail is a constitutional right. Judges rule on the bail request on 22 September.


  1. I used to be one of his biggest supporters in the past ዘንድሮ ግን ትንሽ እንቆቅልሽ ሀኖብኛል። What does he want? And which side is he on? Just curious: what exactly is Eskinder’s profession? We know for sure he is neither a journalist nor an elected public official. So what is he , a politician? An activist? Or an outlaw agitator? Now the government says he they have more than enough evidence to charge of with these very serious crimes. For sure, he is not “christ” as some suggest and I will not follow him blindly. Would like to see the evidence against him as presented in court before I make up mind this time.

  2. What a brazenly implausible lie!

    None of this makes sense. By not even attempting to be believable, it is sending a chilling message, dissent at your own peril. How is this an improvement from TPLF?

  3. “የአማራ” ነፃ አውጪ ድርጂት ዋናው ሊቀመንበር = ምናልባትም Gestapo ያሰለጠነው የከተማ ወፈፌ = ስለሆነም ነው መፈክሩ: “ናዚዎች አይሁዶችን እንደፈጅዋቸው እኛም ትግሬዎችን እንፈጃቸዋለን” የሆነው::

  4. Tigray plf , Oromo Fc , AmaraDP , OromoLF , Amara NM …. Are all ethnic based political parties .

    Balderas political is not ethnic based political party.
    As commentator Zereyacob above try to say it is. Balderas b political party consists all ethnicities and Eskinder Nega is the President of Balderas political party which Abiy the federal PP party and the Addis Ababa City PP party are trying to assassinate.

  5. It is saddening for me to see these young men are gonna be wasted for much ado about nothing just like those hundreds of thousands who perished in the 1970’s. I hoped level headed elders would intervene and bring all those involved to their senses and end the senseless confrontation before it gets to the point of no return. When Obbo Eskinder was sent to jail a few years ago I was bitterly opposed to it. I was crying with his angelic son in spirit. When he got his freedom back I was ecstatically joyful. Now he is back in prison. Whether the charges are true or not I will want to make a judgment until the trial begins and listed to both sides. Obbo Bekele also is back in prison. These two at least they are familiar with what it is like to be in prison. But I don’t know about Jawar. It is gonna a serious problem for him. He is not cut out for it. I don’t think he knew it will be so tough. To say ‘I’m ready’ is one thing but to be in it is totally different animal.

    It seems that the governments both in Oromia and at Federal level are dead serious about it. They are resolute to bring destructive behavior to a screeching halt. No more slap on the wrists. This is the real McCoy folks. I still have hopes, no matter how thin it is, that in our legendary and ages old tradition, elders will intervene here bring both sides to a lasting hand shake. Then both can go back work, really hard and productive work, to drag that poor Oromo, Amhara, Tigre, Afar, Somali, Sidama and their other 80 plus brothers and sisters out of abject misery and wretchedness. The need and aspiration of all these people is exactly the same in its final products; peace, stability, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness. These end results will not come to fruition unless the platform is equitably available to every responsible stakeholder. Felons, hatred and violence preachers Shall Not be allowed to have a leeway for their demonic sermons. They should be reminded and given a serious lesson that there is a law in the book that they dare not cross. That was how current democracies took roots and flourished. That country, that gem of the colored should lose/misappropriate the chance it got for a third time. This is it. There is 4th time. Either shape up not or go asunder. I know some of you try to justify it going asunder arguing that it will be easier to put it together the right way. I say to you take that somewhere else; tell that to el-Sisi. He will toss some kibbles n ‘bits at you. At the first instance of it going into pieces there will be more than 120 million people on the move. It will start a giant domino effect that will stretch for tens of thousands miles. That ain’t funny. It will make Syria, Yemen, Somalia and that Europe right after the end of WWII look like a walk in the park. I know some of you among us don’t give a flying dice if that happens just because you think you’re all set living in comfy homes. You still preach for the destruction of that gem of humanity knowing for fact that destruction of a country system by violent means will always lead to massacres and genocide. You should so easy for you to know that with your college/advance college education. It seems to me that you did not pick up the good/productive stuff during yours years in college and you mostly crammed yourself only with the ethos in how you talk when you come back.

    I am not rejoicing the demise of these young men. I am utterly saddened by it. I’m very, very sad.

  6. Make that:
    1 – That country, that gem of the colored should not lose/misappropriate the chance it got for a third time. This is it.
    There is not 4th time. Either shape up or go asunder. I know some of you try to justify it going asunder arguing
    that it will be easier to put it back together the right way.
    2 – It should have been so easy for you to know that with your college/advance college education.

  7. Kiryatis,

    ጥቂት ጉራጌዎችና እንዲሁም በገፍ የራስ መኮንን በረት ውስጥ የተፋሩትም አሉበት፣ ግን ከአንድ ሁለቱ ጉራጌዎች በስተቀር ሌሎቹ ራሳቸውን እንደ አማራ ነው የሚያስተዋውቁት:: እኔም ብሆን ይሄንን ሁሉ ሕርኽራኽ (ሕርኽራኽ= best TIGRIGNA word ስብጥርነታቸውን ለመግለፅ) ስለተገነዘብኩኝ ነው አማራ የሚለውን ቃል በጥቅስ ቅንፍ “” ውስጥ መክተቴ!

  8. ዘረ-ያዕቖብ

    I guess “Amara” means being Ethiopian for many. But for national election purposes it would be advisable the candidates Balderas sends to run for election at different regions represent the ethnicity of the regions they are running election at since all region’s constitution within Ethiopia (except the Amara region’s constitution) does not permit individuals from others outside ethnicities to hold governmental leadership posts in their region.From what I heard Hilawi Yosef is getting ready to run for office in Amara region at the next election.

    If Balderas candidates try to run for an election in Tigray , Afar , Oromua , Somali , Gambella and so on while the candidates they send to these regions continue to claim to be an Amara , I have to assume they must be wanting not to get elected in the regions outside Addis Ababa and the Amara region.

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