Detained since Aug 27, 2011, after meeting an Amnesty International delegation, then charged under the country’s sweeping anti-terrorism law, Ob. Bekele Gerba and Ob. Olbana Lelisa were each sentenced to 8 years initially, and the term was then reduced to 3 years and 7 months after an appeal to the Supreme Court. They were supposed to be released under probation last year (January 2014), but they were kept in prison so far for unexplained bureaucratic reasons.
Ob. Bekele Gerba was the Deputy Chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), and Ob. Olbana Lelisa was a high-ranking leader in the Oromo People’s Congress party (OPC) at the time of their arrests in 2011. Since their arrests, OFDM and OPC had merged into the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).
What Ob. Bekele Gerba had spoken in front of the Federal High Court courageously, despite interruptions from the Presiding Judge, after he had been unjustly found guilty of the convictions, has become a very popular and quotable by many:
“In my life time, I have opposed injustice, discrimination, ethnic favoritism and oppression. I am honored to learn that my nonviolent struggles and humble sacrifices for the democratic and human rights of the Oromo people, to whom I was born without a wish on my part, but due to the will of the Almighty, have been considered a crime and to be unjustly convicted. If apology was warranted, I would seek it not from the court that found me guilty of a crime I did not commit, but rather from my people as well as the Almighty; for my people for failing to fully speak to the depth of their suffering in the interest of the co-existence of peoples, and from the Creator, if my zealous defense of the rights of the Oromo people was done to further my personal interest or to aggrandize my personal fame rather than to promote the long-term desire of all peoples of the country to live in freedom, dignity and equality.”