Mosques torched amid escalating faith tensions between christians and muslims as opposition party slams government for failure to uphold rule of law and human rights.
Ethiopia: Mosques looted, set on fire on Gondor Zone, Amhara regional State https://t.co/DHzMXZAxM0— Horn Observer (@hornobserver) February 13, 2019
On 4th February 2019, two mosques were torched in north-eastern Ethiopia amid escalating interfaith tensions between Christians and Muslims. The mosques were torched in Este, South Gondar, in Amhara state, the country’s second-most populous region. The arson attacks were triggered after Muslims who were decorating a wedding tent using discarded papers unknowingly used images of the Virgin Mary, thus provoking Christians in the area. A third mosque was torched on 10th February 2019 nearby in Andebet Woreda. Sheik Mohammed Amin, President of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, strongly condemned the acts.
On 21st March 2019, the opposition Social Democratic Party (ESDP) called a press conference in Addis Ababa and released a statement calling out the government for rights abuses and inability to enforce rule of law. The party noted that despite reforms over the last year, some government officials still engage in human rights violations which often go unpunished, perpetuating the misconception that authorities are above the law. The party also blamed the government for its silence on the human rights abuses, and for failing to uphold the rule of law, pointing out that certain groups, such as the gobez aleqa (youth groups who are putting themselves above the law) have been intimidating citizens without any action by authorities.
The statement read in part:
“Defending basic human rights of citizens as a primary responsibility of government is forgotten.”
In April 2019, a year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was sworn in as Ethiopia’s prime minister, Human Rights Watch assessed what he had accomplished throughout his first year in office. The organisation did this by looking at his government’s performance regarding eight key human rights priorities and providing recommendations on what should be done in his second year in office. Human Rights Watch noted that while progress has been made toward eliminating the longstanding practice of torture in Ethiopian detention centres, not enough has been done to investigate past crimes and hold security officers responsible to account. The use of arbitrary detention as a tactic to stifle dissent or opposition has decreased but is still a concern in areas such as Oromia where there has been conflicts between suspected OLF members and the military. Similarly, in September 2018, at least 3000 youth were detained in Addis Ababa.
On 19th March 2019, a brief advisory was released by the prime minister’s office alleging that some individuals on social media are using fake personal and organisational accounts to “disseminate hate and misinformation.” This came after the office of the prime minister published a warning on Facebook with regard to the release of what was said to be “a campaign to bring about violence leading to displacement and suffering of people” as a strategy to sabotage the ongoing change in the country.
Over the last year, press freedom has greatly improved in Ethiopia. Previously, international media was banned in the country and journalists were frequently detained. According to Human Rights Watch, there are no longer any journalists in jail as a result of the ongoing reforms.