Case History: Omot Agwa Okwoy
Omot Agwa Okwoy was initially given a court date of 12 June 2017, however, his case has been adjourned four times. His next court date is scheduled for 30 June 2018.
Omot Agwa Okwoy is a church leader in Ethiopia’s Gambela region and a human rights defender who works to promote the rights of indigenous peoples and people living in the Gambela region. He works against the degradation of land in rural parts of Ethiopia and advocates for the establishment of national parks. Omot Agwa Okwoy also works for the rights of indigenous people living in rural villages in Gambela near the South Sudanese border, who are often caught in the bloody conflict between Ethiopian and South Sudanese ethnic groups, which has resulted in killings and child abductions.
UPDATE: Omot Agwa Okwoy was initially given a court date of 12 June 2017, however, his case has been adjourned four times. His next court date is scheduled for 30 June 2018
On 17 January 2017, human rights defender Omot Agwa Okwoy was released on bail of 50,000 Ethiopian Birr (approximately 2500 USD) from Kulinto Prison after almost two years in detention. He was arrested on 15 March 2015 and charged under the anti-terrorism law. Due to a further charge of coordinating with people the Ethiopian government considers to be terrorists, the human rights defender’s next hearing is scheduled for June 2017.
On 17 January 2017, Omot Agwa Okwoy was released from Kulinto prison on bail of around 50,000 Ethiopian Birr (approximately 2500 USD). While charges related to terrorism have been dropped, Omot Agwa Okwoy attended a hearing in March 2017 to present his defense and is scheduled to appear before the court for a hearing in June 2017 where he must present his own defense and invite his friends to testify for him. Following this, there will be a second hearing, also scheduled for June 2017, where a final decision will be announced determining whether the human rights defender is guilty or free of all charges. Omot Agwa Okwoy still faces the charge of coordinating with people the Ethiopian government consider to be terrorists.
On 15 March 2015, Omot Agwa Okwoy was arbitrarily arrested and detained until 7 September 2015 when he was charged under the anti-terrorism law. The charges brought against the human rights defender relate to a food security workshop that he was due to attend in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2015. It was reported that the workshop was considered by the Ethiopian authorities to be linked to terrorist activities and Omot Agwa Okwoy was arrested by Ethiopian security agents at Addis Ababa airport, where he was due to travel to Nairobi.
During his detention, Omot Agwa Okwoy was held in Kulinto prison, 700km away from Gambela and his family, who resided in Gambela at that time. Every night for the first six months of his detention, Omot Agwa Okwoy was subjected to torture. Additionally, for the first month of his detention, the human rights defender was held incommunicado in solitary confinement in a small, dark room where he could not differentiate between day and night. The conditions in the prison were very poor where bugs and lice were prevalent.
Omot Agwa Okwoy’s passport was confiscated at the time of his arrest and Ethiopian authorities have refused to return it since. For safety reasons, Omot Agwa Okwoy’s wife and children are living in Nairobi. His wife is unwell and in need of surgery. Omot Agwa Okwoy cannot cross the Ethiopian border until all charges have been dropped and therefore cannot see his family or provide the financial support needed for his wife to have the operation.
Front Line Defenders welcomes the release of Omot Agwa Okwoy but strongly condemns the charges brought against him. Front Line Defenders also condemns the arrest and detention of Omot Agwa Okwoy and calls on the Ethiopian authorities to drop all remaining charges against the human rights defender and guarantee his physical and psychological security and integrity. It also calls on the authorities to cease targeting all human rights defenders in Ethiopia and guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
Mr Omot Agwa Okwoy and his fellow human rights defenders Messrs Ashinie Astin and Jamal Oumar Hojele have been arbitrary detained for over six months since their arrest on 15 March 2015.On 7 September 2015 they were charged under the anti-terrorism law. Their hearing was adjourned by the Lideta Division Criminal Section of the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa until 22 October 2015.
Following six months in detention, the human rights defenders appeared before the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa on 7 September 2015, where they were charged under the anti-terrorism law for allegedly planning to participate in a workshop which was linked to terrorist activities. Following the official charges, the human rights defenders were transferred to the Kulinto Prision in the Akaki area. Prior to that, they had been detained at Makelawi police station, where Omot Agwa Okwoy had been held in solitary confinement for three weeks during his detention.
The charges brought against the human rights defenders relate to a food security workshop that the they were due to attend in Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2015. It is reported that the workshop was considered by the Ethiopian authorities to be linked to terrorist activities and Omot Agwa Okwoy, Ashinie Astin and Jamal Oumar Hojele were arrested by Ethiopian security agents at Addis Ababa airport, from where they were due to travel to Nairobi.
On 15 March 2015, human rights defender Mr Omot Agwa Okwoy was arrested by Ethiopian security agents at the Addis Ababa airport where he was travelling to Nairobi to attend an international workshop on seeds and land issues to help improve the lives and livelihoods of communities in remote parts of Ethiopia.
Since then, his whereabouts are unknown. According to reports, six other
Ethiopian pastoralist and indigenous participants in the workshop were not on the scheduled flight that was to arrive in Nairobi. Their mobile phones have been switched off and their whereabouts also remain unknown to this date.
The workshop was organised by Bread for All, the Development Service of the
Protestant Churches in Switzerland, and was due to start on 16 March 2015. The reasons behind Mr Okwoy's arrest remain unclear. According to reports, Mr Okwoy was already approached the week before by an Ethiopian security agent from his home town in the Gambella region. This encounter made him fear for his security, however he still chose to travel to attend the workshop.