Human Rights Watch is calling for an urgent independent inquiry into the killing of a candidate for Ethiopia's parliament from Asgede Tsomla woreda in the Tigray Region.
Aregawi Gebreyohannes, a member of the opposition Arena-Medrek Party, was stabbed to death in front of family members last Monday at 3 a.m. in Asgede Tsomla. A member of the family who witnessed the attack told VOA that one man stabbed Aregawi in the stomach and the leg. The victim bled to death before reaching the hospital.
Arena-Medrek leaders called the killing a deliberate act on the part of the Ethiopian government to intimidate opposition candidates ahead of the May 23 national elections.
"The candidate was imprisoned by security forces twice for distributing campaign flyers," Gebru Asrat, chairman of Arena Tigray told VOA. "Three days before the attack that claimed his life, he reported that he had received threats and intimidation from local government officials."
The Ethiopian government dubbed the crime "a bar saga," rejecting accusations that the slaying was political foul play by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. EPRDF party spokesman Hailemariam Desalegn said police has determined the politician was killed in a bar fight.
"He has got a bar and when they were drinking, they quarreled," Hailemariam said. "That's a personal case. The guy killed him. He has nothing to do with the EPRDF. And that guy, the police have arrested him ... and it's nothing to do with politics."
The chief of police of Asgede Tsomla, Sergeant Teklu Gebremariam, told VOA they have arrested five gold miners in connection with the stabbing of Aregawi Gebreyohannes.
"The person who committed the crime is Tsigue Berhane Alemayehu. His partners in crime are also under police custody," Sergeant Teklu said.
The police chief did not comment on a rumor that three of the suspects were released. However, the woreda administrator, Miruts Woldu, said, "some residents of the town complained to local authorities regarding the release of the three suspects."
All suspects are now in police custody awaiting trial. But Human Rights Watch wants more to be done. "We hope the government will take it seriously and open an investigation ," said Leslie Lefkow, senior East Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "They also have to publicly call on government officials and party members to refrain from any attacks or intimidation of opposition politicians."
Ethiopia's previous election was marred by violence that led to the deaths of more than killed 200 civilians. The May elections are being held while a leading political figure, Birtukan Mideksa, is serving a life sentence in prison. Experts say the ruling EPRDF will carry the votes in a landslide victory in the absence of formidable political opposition. Already some parties are indicating an exit from what they call a "flawed process."