(BBC News) — A prominent opposition leader in Ethiopia has been detained after he returned from Europe.
Merera Gudina had violated Ethiopia’s state of emergency by having contact with “terrorist” and “anti-peace” groups, state-linked media reported.
Mr Merera criticised the state of emergency in an address to the European parliament on 9 November.
The government imposed it in October to end an unprecedented wave of protests against its 25-year rule.
More than 11,000 people have since been arrested.
Mr Merera, who is the leader of the Oromo Federalist Conference, was arrested on Wednesday at the airport in the capital, Addis Ababa, after he flew in from Brussels, reports BBC Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Igunza.
Several of his relatives who were with him were also detained, local media report.
European parliament member Ana Maria Gomes, who invited Mr Merera, told the BBC she was “extremely shocked” about the arrests.
She said she would push for the European Union take a tougher line against the Ethiopian government.
Mr Merera has previously criticised the arrests of hundreds of people from the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, which were at the forefront of anti-government protests.
The meeting at the European parliament was also attended by Ethiopia’s Olympic medallist Feyisa Lilesa.
He refused to return home after the Rio Games, saying his life would be in danger.
The marathon runner crossed the line in second place with his arms above his head in solidarity with Oromo activists.
Mr Merera had served seven years in prison for opposing the former regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.
He also took part in the overthrow of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie.
Many people in the Oromo and Amhara ethnics groups, two of the largest in Ethiopia, complain of political and economic marginalization.
Ethiopia: MEP Ana Gomes, on the detention of Dr. Merera Gudina
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission
Subject: Detention of Dr. Merera Gudina in Ethiopia
Thank you for your reply of 29 November 2016 to my letter concerning the state of emergency decreed by the Ethiopia and the human rights situation in the country. Despite your efforts to request the Ethiopian government to address the grievances of the population, open democratic space and respect the population’s fundamental freedom, the government is not listening.
And the latest evidence of that is in the sad news that Dr. Merera Gudina, a former MP and leader of the Oromo People’s Congress, was arrested yesterday at Bole airport in Ethiopia upon arrival from Europe. I was also informed that his residence was raided by security forces and that at least two of his close family members were taken in custody.
The apparent reason for the arrest was his participation in a hearing at the European Parliament, which I hosted, and where he sat next to the Ethiopian athlete Feyisa Lilesa and Dr. Berhanu Nega. Government affiliated media in Ethiopia accused Dr. Merera Gudina of “crossing the red line” for sitting at the meeting with opposition leader Dr. Berhanu Nega, who is considered a “terrorist” by the Ethiopian government. There are reports that the government-affiliated media circulated pictures of the hearing and implied that he violated both the state of emergency decree and the so called Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Law by meeting someone that the Ethiopian government designated as terrorist.
Dr. Merera Gudina come to the European Parliament at my invitation to speak about the situation in Ethiopia, which is of direct concern to European parliamentarians and institutions, given the strong ties between the European Union and Ethiopia and the fact that Ethiopia is the single biggest recipient of EU development aid in Africa. For these reasons, he also met with the cabinet of President Schulz and with the External Action Service.
It is unacceptable that Dr. Merera Gudina was detained upon arrival in Ethiopia, and his arrest demonstrates the government’s absolute disregard of human rights, namely freedom of speech. It should serve as an indication that the Ethiopian government has no intention to open up democratic space in the country nor to heed your calls for inclusive dialogue.
A more stringent approach is necessary from EU towards the Ethiopian government. Failing to do so will only aggravate the violence in the country, which can easily escalate into civil war. I am extremely concerned about the detention of Dr. Merera Gudina and his relatives, and believe that he is at risk of being submitted to torture and other ill-treatment. I therefore hope that you will adamantly press for his immediate release and condemn his arrest as blatant violation of international human rights norms, which Ethiopia is bound to uphold, namely under the Cotonou Agreement.
Member of the European Parliament