By Ayenat Mersie
NAIROBI – A former senior official in an interim government for Ethiopia’s Tigray region appeared in court on Saturday over allegations of inciting conflict between the Tigrayan people and the central government, and possessing an illegal gun, his lawyer said.
War erupted in Nov. 2020 in the northern region of Tigray between the federal government and forces aligned with the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Soon after, the federal government seized the Tigray capital and appointed an interim administration for Tigray.
Abraha Desta served in that federally-appointed administration as the head of the Bureau of Social Affairs of Tigray. He was previously a member of Tigrayan opposition party Arena, which resisted the TPLF, and had spent three years in jail under the former TPLF-led government. He is the highest-ranking official from the interim administration to be arrested.
Abraha held his position until late June, when Tigrayan forces retook most of Tigray and he left for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
He was arrested there on Thursday, one day after writing an open letter to Addis Ababa’s new mayor on Facebook denouncing what he alleged were arbitrary arrests of ethnic Tigrayans and mounting discrimination.
A Reuters investigation earlier this year found that Ethiopian police had arrested hundreds of ethnic Tigrayans in Addis Ababa without charge. Police denied at the time that suspects were being targeted over their ethnicity.
On Saturday, Abraha was remanded for nine days, said his lawyer, who requested Reuters not publish his name.
Neither the federal police spokesman Jeylan Abdi nor the attorney general’s office spokesman Awol Sultan could immediately be reached for comment.
There has been increasing international criticism of conditions in Tigray, with the U.N. warning hundreds of thousands of people face famine. All parties fighting in northern Ethiopia face the possibility of sanctions from the U.S. government.