The police in Ethiopia have confirmed the arrest of leading opposition politician Jawar Mohammed, a move that risks inflaming ethnic tensions that have led to multiple deaths in the Oromia region this week.
Jawar, a former media mogul who recently joined the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, was arrested on Wednesday in Addis Ababa along with 34 other people, Federal Police Commissioner Endeshaw Tassew said.
Jawar is an Ethiopian-born American political analyst and activist. One of the founders of the Oromia Media Network, he was a leading organiser of the 2016 Ethiopian protests and the key intellectual inspiration for the International Oromo Youth Association, popularly known as Qeerroo.
AFP news agency reported that the arrest came during an altercation with the security forces over the body of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer who was gunned down on Monday night, an action which led to widespread protests.
Endeshaw said that as Hachalu’s body was being transported to his native town of Ambo for burial, Jawar and his supporters intercepted it and tried to return it to Addis Ababa, where a clash ensued.
“There was a disturbance between federal security forces and others, and in the process one member of the Oromia Special Police Force was killed,” he said.
“Thirty-five people, including Jawar Mohammed, have been put under arrest. The security forces have taken eight Kalashnikovs, five pistols and nine radio transmitters from Jawar Mohammed’s car,” the police said.
Jawar’s arrest could exacerbate violence in Oromia, which surrounds Addis Ababa and is the heartland of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.
Officials and witnesses confirmed at least four deaths in Oromia.
In October, reports that the government was attempting to remove Jawar’s security detail sparked off days of violence that left around 80 people dead.
The government has switched off the internet in an attempt to curb the latest unrest, which began immediately after Hachalu’s death in Addis Ababa was announced.
Hachalu’s music gave voice to Oromo feelings of marginalisation that were at the core of years of anti-government protests that swept Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018.
The motive for his death has not been identified but police said that “some suspects” had been arrested, while trying to link them to the Oromo Liberation Army, a rebel group active in southern and western Oromia.