Protesters in Oromia, Ethiopia's largest state, are continuing as the government keeps killing, torturing and jailing peaceful demonstrators, an activist alleged during an interview with IBTimes UK. The source, who spoke on conditions of anonymity for security reasons, alleged that the death toll at the hands of security forces stands at 270.
Oromo people, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, have been protesting since November 2015 against a government's draft plan that aimed to expand the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa. Demonstrators argued the so-called "Addis Ababa master plan" would lead to forced evictions of Oromo farmers who will lose their lands and become impoverished as a result.
Protesters also claimed that forced evictions as well as a perceived marginalisation by the government are already occurring and they threaten the survival of the Oromo's culture and language.
"The protests continued because the government kept on killing, jailing and torturing people for taking part in the Oromo protests,while giving contradictory press releases saying it scrapped the plan, but continuing to prosecute those who took part in the protests," the activist told IBTimes UK.
The source added that at least 30,000 people have been arrested. "Our basic demand are: Stop the killings, release all political prisoners, bring to justice all the perpetrators of the killing, tortures and disappearances, establish independent investigators into the matter, compensate victims' families," the activist continued.
"We also call on the government to withdraw its army from the Oromia region, where it was deployed to crackdown on the protests as the region's police force couldn't control demonstrations".
The activis' comments came one day after Human Rights Watch released a report warning that killings of Oromo protesters at the hands of security forces, including the military, continue.
"Security forces, including military personnel, have fatally shot scores of demonstrators," the rights group said. "Thousands of people have been arrested and remain in detention without charge. While the frequency of protests appears to have decreased in the last few weeks, the crackdown continues."
Ethiopian government's position
IBTimes UK has contacted the Ethiopian embassy in London for a statement, but has not received a response at the time of publishing. Speaking to the BBC, communications minister Getachew Reda denied the government was cracking down on demonstrators.
He also denied that protests were ongoing and claimed attacks on public buildings were carried out by armed gangs "who are trying to stir up emotions in the public".
In a previous interview with IBTimes UK, Abiy Berhane, minister counsellor at the embassy, confirmed that an investigation had been launched to establish the exact death toll of people who "fell victim to the violent confrontation with security forces as well as the extent of property damage".
Regarding the allegations of violence against demonstrators and civilians, he said: "These are just one of the many fabrications that are being circulated by certain opposition groups as part of their propaganda campaign. The unrest cannot be described as a national crisis.
"The disturbances orchestrated by opposition groups have now subsided as the general public understood that the integrated master plan is still at a draft stage and will only be implemented after extensive public consultation in the matter takes place and gains the support of the people."