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Ethiopia

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Last updated on 18.06.2018 at 13:45

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Government lifts the state of emergency and releases political prisoners

Government lifts the state of emergency and releases political prisoners

In early June 2018, the government lifted the state of emergency imposed in February following the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn after months of protests. On 27th May, the authorities pardoned opposition leader Andargachew Tsige. 11 journalists, bloggers, and activists arrested on 25th March 2018 were released on 5th April

In late March 2018, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF) elected Dr. Abiy Ahmed as its new leader following a closed meeting of 170 of the party's senior leadership member. Ahmed, 42, is a former minister and Ethiopia's first prime minister from the Oromo ethnic group since the current administration took power in 1991.

Since the election, the authorities have pledged to push through a raft of reforms. Abiy has travelled to several areas of the country, promising to address grievances and strengthen a range of civil and political rights

In late April, the new Prime Minister announced that he was considering introducing a two-term limit for prime ministers – the current constitution allows them to serve for an unlimited number of years. This is a considerable break from other governments in the region, such as Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda, which have sought to abolish or extend age and term limits for high-ranking elected officials

In early June 2018, the government lifted the state of emergency imposed in February following the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn after months of protests.

Association

A number of political prisoners - including journalists, bloggers, activists, academics and opposition leaders - were released between April to June 2018 in Ethiopia. Civil society groups believe that these moves are part of the reform drive of the new Prime Minister who has the backing of the EPDRF.

Opposition leader on death row released

On 27th May 2018, the authorities pardoned opposition leader Andargachew Tsige who was found guilty of "terrorism" and sentenced in absentia in 2009, over his role in the opposition group Ginbot 7. Tsige who has British citizenship was pardoned "under special circumstances" along with 575 other prisoners. According to the Attorney General the decisions was made with the "intention of widening political space.”

As previously reported by the CIVICUS Monitor, Andargachew Tsege has been on death row for over three years. He was seized at an international airport in Yemen in June 2014 and transferred into Ethiopian custody shortly thereafter, where he was held in solitary confinement for over a year.

19 political activists released

On 4th April 2018, 19 political activists were released on 4th April without charge. As previously reported in the CIVICUS Monitor, on 24th March 2018, the activists had travelled to Bahir Dar to discuss the formation of a new political party and were arrested and allegedly ill-treated in the process. 

Among those arrested include Dr. Dessalegn Chane (a professor at Bahir Dar University), Gashawu Mersha, Yesuf Ibrahim (a lawyer and former university lecturer), Temesgen Tessema (a lecturer at Wolo University), Belete Molla (a lecturer at Addis Ababa.University), Nigatu Asress (a journalist at Amhara Regional TV), Belete Kassa (a former editor-in-chief of Qelem Qend newspaper) and Kassu Hailu (a lecturer at Enjibar University).

Imprisoned Canadian citizen returns home

Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than 11 years, was returned to Canada on 21st April. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 after being accused of being a member of the banned Ogaden National Liberation Front separatist group. He denied the charges.

Makhtal was born in Ethiopia and settled in Canada as a refugee, and later moved to Kenya where he operated a used-clothing business. He was working in Somalia in 2006, but fled back to the Kenyan border when Ethiopian troops invaded. He was detained by Kenyan authorities and summarily deported to Ethiopia.

Amnesty International welcomed his release saying:

“After such a prolonged ordeal marked by grave injustices and concern of torture and medical problems, to see Bashir back on Canadian soil and reunited with his loved ones was a beautiful sight…Bashir and his family have been through far too much to put into words. It is so good to know that the process of healing can now finally begin.”

Expression

Release of journalists, bloggers, and activists
 

11 journalists, bloggers, and activists arrested by Ethiopian security forces on 25th March 2018 were released on 5th April. 

As documented previously by the CIVICUS Monitor, the arrests were carried out while they were attending a private meeting in Addis Ababa at the home of journalist Temesgen Desalegn. The private gathering was held in recognition of the recent release of thousands of political prisoners amidst ongoing and widespread protests against political marginalisation and land grabbing in the Oromia and Amhara regions which began in late 2015. They had also allegedly displayed a flag that differs from the official national banner at the meeting.

Those arrested include journalists Eskinder Nega and Temesgen Desalegn, Zone9 bloggers Mahlet Fantahun, Befekadu Hailu, blogger Zelalem Workaggnhu and political activists Andualem Arage, Addisu Getinet, Yidnekachewu Addis, Sintayehu Chekol, Tefera Tesfaye and Woynshet Molla.

Blogger Seyoum Teshome, who was arrested on 8th March, was also released in mid-April.

Mobile services restored

In a positive step, mobile internet services that had been blocked for months, notably in the protest-heavy Oromia, Amhara, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Regions, were restored in early April 2018. All Internet and telephone services in the country are controlled by state-owned Ethio Telecom.

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.