Ethiopian Police Arrest Actor Debebe Over Alleged Links to Banned Group

By William Davison,  Bloomberg

Ethiopian authorities arrested actor Debebe Eshetu on allegations he has links to the banned Ginbot 7 group, said Shimeles Kemal, minister of state in the Communications Ministry.

After being “closely” monitored, Debebe was detained yesterday by federal police and intelligence officials, Shimeles said in a phone interview today from Addis Ababa, the capital. He is being held at the Maekalawi prison and will be brought before court within 48 hours of his arrest, Shimeles said. The court may grant a further 28 days for investigation before charges are brought under the country’s anti-terror laws.

In 2005, Debebe was charged with treason following a disputed election and sentenced to life in prison, according to the state-owned Ethiopia Radio and Television Agency’s website. His request for a pardon was granted by the government, the agency said. Debebe’s latest arrest is on charges of “plotting to carry out a terrorist attack,” ERTA said.

Ginbot 7 is led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005. He was also imprisoned for plotting to overthrow the government and fled to the U.S. to set up the organization after being pardoned in 2007.

“Debebe Eshetu has never been in any way or form associated with Ginbot 7,” Berhanu said in an e-mailed response to questions today. “This measure by the government, in addition to all the arrests that it has been doing in the past few weeks, is simply a futile attempt to terrorize people into submission.”

‘Terror Activity’

The group is banned because it has “openly declared” violence to achieve its objective and also “resorts to terror activity,” Shimeles said. Berhanu is a fugitive from a death sentence, he said.

Ginbot 7’s primary mission is for political authority to be “assumed through peaceful and democratic process based on the free will and choice of citizens of the country,” according to the group’s website.

While peaceful resistance is preferred, “people have a right to protect themselves from violent tyranny in any way they could,” Berhanu said today. “They have a right to struggle for their liberty, as in Libya or any other place for that matter, by whatever means the situation demands.”

Earlier this week, the government charged two Swedish reporters and two ethnic-Somali rebels with terror offenses after they were detained in July in the restive Ogaden region. Five others, including three Ethiopian journalists, were also charged under the country’s anti-terror laws for involvement in a separate plot.

Debebe has acted in movies including the 1973 action film Shaft in Africa and Una Stagione all-Inferno in 1970, according to the Internet Movie Database.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at