CIVICUS

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Ethiopia

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Last updated on 17.09.2018 at 12:12

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journalists attacked and internet shut downs continue despite progressive reform drive

journalists attacked and internet shut downs continue despite progressive reform drive

government enters into agreement with the OLF, weeks after the group, among other political groups, were dropped dropped off the list of groups declared as terrorist groups by the previous government. 264 website that were previously blocked were also opened up for access by the public. However, despite these positive developments under the ongoing reform drive, freedom of expression is still under threat as a media crew was attacked while on duty, and internet was shut down in the Eastern region of the country.

Government signs peace deal with Eritrea, opposition movements removed from 'terrorist list' in new wave of government reforms

As previously reported on the on the CIVICUS Monitor, on 9th July 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki signed a historic declaration to end the "state of war" which has long seen the repression of basic human rights and freedoms in Eritrea.  

In Ethiopia, the signing of the peace deal is part of a reform drive by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Amid these developments, on 7th August 2018 the Ethiopian government signed an agreement to end hostilities with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). This followed the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the group in early July after the Ethiopian Parliament removed it from a contentious list of banned terrorist groups maintained by the previous government since 2008.

The agreement partly states that “the OLF will conduct its political activities in Ethiopia through peaceful means”.

The secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Ginbot7 opposition movement were also removed from the list. Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ginbot 7 have each previously been engaged in armed struggles against the Ethiopian government.

As part of the reforms, on July 12th, the president of the Ethiopia’s Somali region, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, announced that his provincial government had released thousands of inmates who had been jailed for their involvement with the ONLF. He proceeded to say that plans were underway to turn the prisons into schools and hospitals.

Expression

On 22nd June, Ethiopian authorities allowed access to two hundred and sixty four previously blocked websites, news outlets, and blogs, including diaspora-based outlets like the Oromia Media Network and Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio.

Committee to Protect Journalists, Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said;

"Allowing Ethiopians to access these news outlets is a positive sign that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is committed to delivering his promise to end Ethiopia's censorship of the independent press …we ask the prime minister to now amend laws that restrict free speech and to end a system of surveillance that has long been used to intimidate journalists."

In separate developments, on 13th July, a news crew from state-owned Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency was attacked in Meiso, Oromia State, by a group of unknown people who accused them of being spies. The news crew who were travelling to Addis Ababa to cover a visit by the Eritrean president to Ethiopia were then taken to the police station by the attackers. However, their driver Suleiman Mahamed, who left the police station alone after being released was again assaulted in a separate attack which left him in a coma state. He died in hospital on 19th July due to injuries sustained to his head and ribs. Although it is not known who his assailants were, it is believed that the initial attackers may have been responsible for the second attack.

CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal in Durban said;

"The gains that Ethiopia has made in recent months, improving the media freedom environment under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, will vanish if journalists are violently attacked with impunity …it is the duty of the government to ensure that the attack on the Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency crew is rigorously and credibly investigated. Those who killed media worker Suleiman Mahamed must face justice in court."

Despite the ongoing reforms that promise to open up civic space in the country, the Ethiopian government recently cut off Internet connections in the eastern parts of the country in early August, the first time they have done so since lifting the state of emergency in June 2018. The shutdown was allegedly in response to ongoing violence in the Somali region.

Association in Ethiopia

The adoption of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) has precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights reporting in the country.

The adoption of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) has precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights reporting in the country. Under CSP, international human rights groups are proscribed from working in the country and national groups are prohibited from receiving more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources if they work on a number of human rights issues including, inter alia, human and democratic rights, promotion of gender and religion, the rights of children and people with disabilities, conflict resolution or reconciliation and the promotion of the efficiency of justice and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, national groups are forced to receive explicit approval from the authorities to conduct any form of domestic fundraising and must provide detailed information of all individual benefactors. Under this highly restrictive legal framework, few organisations manage to operate in the country and those that have maintained their explicit human rights mandate are subjected to discriminatory application of the law as well as intimidation and harassment by the state.

Peaceful Assembly in Ethiopia

While largely intolerant of public demonstrations, since 2015 the government has instituted an unprecedented and deadly crackdown on the right to freedom of assembly. The authorities frequently invoke restrictive legislation, including to proscribe groups critical of the government from holding public protests.

While largely intolerant of public demonstrations, since 2015 the government has instituted an unprecedented and deadly crackdown on the right to freedom of assembly. The authorities frequently invoke restrictive legislation, including to proscribe groups critical of the government from holding public protests. When demonstrations do occur they are frequently met with disproportionate, excessive and lethal force as well as arbitrary arrests of participants, supporters, organisors and monitors. In response to a recent wave of protests in the Oromia region beginning in November 2015, security forces have killed over 400 protesters, including scores of children, and arrested, detained or prosecuted thousands of others under the widely criticised 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). The protestors, who are opposing the dispossession of their land by the government under its national development plan, continue to demonstrate despite this violent state repression. Moreover, ongoing peaceful protests organised by members of the Muslim community in the capital, Addis Ababa, since 2012 have been subjected to unjustifiable and violent state obstruction. On at least four occasions, security forces used unwarranted and excessive force, including firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protestors. On3 August 2015, 18 Muslim leaders, protestors and journalists were sentenced to between 7 and 22 years in prisonunder the ATP.

Expression in Ethiopia

The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation severely restricts freedom of expression, and has been widely used to stifle dissent. Police forces have imprisoned and sentenced scores of journalists using vague provisions of the law and forced dozens of others to flee the country to avoid further persecution.

The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation severely restricts freedom of expression, and has been widely used to stifle dissent. Police forces have imprisoned and sentenced scores of journalists using vague provisions of the law and forced dozens of others to flee the country to avoid further persecution. Currently at least 10 remain in prison under the ATP while 30 journalists fled the country in 2014 alone. The government also continues to arbitrarily close independent media outlets and censor online platforms. Also in 2014 at least six publications were unwarrantedly dissolved. The government has intensified its control over the Internet, and blocked access to independent websites or critical television and radio programmes. Assessments undertaken in early 2012 revealed that 65 websites related to news, 14 websites belonging to different Ethiopian political parties, 37 blogs, 7 audio-video websites, and 37 Facebook pages were not accessible in the country. The monitoring of telephone calls by security agents is also widely reported. Journalists both local and foreign are also barred by security agents from covering protests, such as the recent demonstrations in Oromia, which severely hampers documentation of rights violations committed during the protests.