Summary and Current Status
According to Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International (AI), on November 13, 2002, Dr. Million Tumato was released from prison and is reportedly in good health. Dr. Million had been held without charge since late July 2002. Four others arrested at the same time were also released.
Dr. Million, a doctor who runs an HIV/AIDS education project in Awassa, Ethiopia, was arrested and detained along with hundreds of others who participated in a May 24, 2002, non-violent protest march against government plans to relocate the regional capital. According to AI, many of those arrested have now been released.
Dr. Million Tumato's AIDS/HIV education project in the southern Ethiopian province of Sidama includes a small staff of several nurses and is supported by limited resources provided by the local government, including a small truck to reach remote areas to conduct education programs.
Dr. Million participated in a peaceful protest march on May 24, 2002, organized by the Sidama ethnic community in and around the town of Awassa, approximately 170 miles south of Addis Ababa. The estimated seven thousand marchers from the Sidama ethnic group protested a federal government proposal that they believed would reduce Sidama influence in local government affairs. We understand that the change would make Awassa a federal city as well as a regional capital. The Sidama Zone government reportedly was to be moved to the town of Aleta-Wondo.
As reported by the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), an independent, non-governmental organization, the protesters informed the local government authorities of the goals, time and route of the peaceful three mile march. The protesters were said to have carried only signs, grasses and branches, and Ethiopian flags.
According to EHRCO, the march was intercepted approximately halfway through by members of the federal armed forces who used mounted machines guns to fire on the unarmed protesters without warning. AI reported at least 25 deaths, including children. Many others were reported wounded. Two of the dead and one of the wounded were policemen.
Following the march, 36 people were arbitrarily arrested, including three children. Dr. Million was arrested in late July 2002, during a second round of arrests, along with hundreds of other people from the local community, including local opposition political leaders, as well as business officials. The arrests were viewed as part of a continuing political struggle, driven by ethnic and regional differences, between the central government and the Sidama province.