Anuak Justice Council
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Sixteen Anuak Leaders Released from Gambella Prison

Sixteen Anuak leaders, including the former Governor Okello Nigilo, were released from Gambella prison after a Federal Judge from Addis Ababa called the men to court on December 2, 2005. These leaders were members of a group of 44 men who were arrested in October of 2002 and remained in prison for over three years without trial. Of the original 44 men, 6 died while in prison. Trial dates have not yet been set for the remaining 22 leaders.

Prior to their arrests in 2002, ethnic conflicts between the Anuak and Nuer had resulted in large numbers of internally displaced Anuak in the Itang district of Gambella. At this time the regional government, led by Governor Okello Nigilo, called on the central government for help, but their requests were denied. Governor Okello then turned to the Anuak community in Ethiopia and the diaspora, asking them to send funds to provide for the growing number of internally displaced Anuak. The Anuak responded generously, however, it is widely believed that the central government viewed the Anuak’s well-organized efforts and unity as an impending threat to their authority and it was this event that led to the arrest of the 44 Anuak leaders.

According to testimonies from the 16 Anuak who were present in court, the Federal Judge asked the current Governor of Gambella, Omot Obang Olom, whether he had arrested these men and Mr. Olom answered that he had not. When asked why the men were arrested, the Governor told the Federal Judge that the Anuak leaders had been receiving money from other Anuak in the region and were planning to buy guns to use in an attack against the policies of the central government and the Sudanese Nuer that had resettled on Anuak land in the summer of 2002. When asked for proof of this, the Governor said that he had none. The Federal Judge then asked for a witness who could verify these accusations, and the Governor was unable to provide one. After hearing this, the Judge told the 16 leaders to go back to Gambella prison, gather their belongings and go home.

Following their release, the Anuak leaders visited the graves of those who were killed in the massacre of December 2003 and the months that followed.

The Anuak Justice Council (AJC) is greatly encouraged by this recent development and remains hopeful that similar results will soon follow for the estimated 1100 Anuak leaders who are currently being held under false charges and denied access to fair and timely trials in prisons throughout Ethiopia.

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