At-least seven senior officials of UDJ/Andinet, one of the main opposition parties, were in police custody a few hours ago, according to tips I received on facebook/twitter and by phone from opposition activists.
However, the government denies that was the case.
After several attempts to reach both government and UDJ party officials for information and comment, I managed to talk to MP Girma Seifu and Minister Redwan Husein.
MP Girma Seifu, who is a senior UDJ official, informed me by phone (around 9:30pm Addis Ababa time) that:
Several UDJ/Andinet party leaders – including him – were detained today, now some of them are released. His colleagues are talking to the police to have the rest of the detainee released and that he is confident that they will not spend the night in jail.
I asked MP Girma what the problem was: He replied the police indicated the party was "conducting unpermitted street announcements". Then, he added that there is no law prohibiting on-street announcements.
MP Girma believes the government is trying to obstruct the demonstration that the party planned for Sunday.
Ethiopian government downplays the claim:
After several attempts to reach Ethiopian government officials, I reached the new Minister of Government Communication Affairs, Redwan Husein, – who recently replaced Bereket Simon – (around 10pm Addis Ababa time).
I asked Redwan whether and why UDJ officials are/were detained and if permission is required conduct street announcements. Facing difficulty with my phone/network, I asked him to send me his reply by SMS – to which he generously agreed. Redwan texted me:
"No one is detained. No permission is needed if it is related to an already recognized meeting or demonstration or any sort, so long as one is not stirring public disturbances. If someone is summoned just for a briefing, that is not tantamount to detention."
This is not the first time UDJ party claiming police obstruction to its on-street announcements. Though it is common for Ethiopian opposition parties to exaggerate problems and complaints, I intend to take a close look at the law and practice of on-street announcements and present my analyses in this blog as soon as possible.