By Kerry Brewster
A Somali-Ethiopian man says relatives in his home country are still feeling the aftermath of a Melbourne protest that occurred earlier this year.
In June, Shukri Shafe, a former lawyer and judge, demonstrated along with dozens of other Somali-Ethiopians now living in Australia against a visit by the President of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State.
Last month, Mr Shafe told Lateline that within hours of the protest in Melbourne, three of his brothers were arrested back in Ethiopia, as well as his mother and sister.
Mr Shafe said he has since received great news about his three missing brothers.
“They are out of jail, according to my information since yesterday,” he said.
“It has been six months since their disappearance, so they were pale, they were thin, people were saying they were starving.
“They had been in the same clothes for six months ago, the same clothes that they were wearing the day they were arrested.”
But he said along with the good news, came some very bad.
“My sister, who had been in jail for a month, has been rearrested and this time it has been extended to her husband,” he said.
Mr Shafe fled Ethiopia in 2008 after being beaten and tortured during the 16 months he was imprisoned.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least 32 relatives of protesters were arrested in June.
Ethiopian Embassy denies allegations
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Elaine Pearson, from Human Rights Watch, is pressing the Australian Government to lobby Ethiopia for the release of all relatives of Australian protesters.
“It’s really disturbing that there are ongoing arrests happening right now in Somali Regional State, perhaps as a backlash against this report,” she said.
“And I think it makes it even more important that foreign governments put pressure on the Ethiopian Government to make sure all of these relatives of Australian citizens are immediately released.”
The Ethiopian Embassy denies anyone has been arrested, either in June immediately after the protest, or since the Lateline report.
Information officer Jamal said Mr Shafe’s sister was not in jail, but at home.
“I will assure you she will not be arrested previously and also there is no arrest,” he said.
“[Shukri Shafe] is not telling the truth.”
To protect his family, Mr Shafe communicates via a third country, and he said his information is accurate.
“I’m not surprised about the Ethiopian denial,” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs told Lateline it would continue to seek advice from the Ethiopian Government in relation to the relatives of those who protested against Abdi Iley’s visit.