CIVICUS

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Ethiopia

Last updated on 23.10.2018 at 09:06

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Exiled Opposition Groups Return Amid Peace Reforms

Exiled Opposition Groups Return Amid Peace Reforms

members of OLF and EPRDF opposition groups return to Ethiopia after years of exile in Eritrea, following improved relations with the Ethiopian government. However clashes erupt in Addis Ababa between Oromo and Addis Ababa youth following disagreements during preparations for the OLF's welcome celebrations.

On 5th October 2018, the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition voted to extend the chairmanship of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, allowing him to continue leading the ruling party.. Abiy was named Prime Minister in April 2018 after his predecessor resigned following years of unrest. He has since introduced sweeping reforms, including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, unbanning several political groups, establishing a Ministry of Peace, and making peace with Eritrea after years of rivalry.

On 15th September 2018, the leadership of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) returned to Addis Ababa from a 26 year exile in Eritrea. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Ethiopian Parliament removed the OLF from a list of banned terrorist organisations amid reforms, as the group declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced their intentions to run in future elections. Some 1500 OLF fighters also returned with them.

Similarly, nearly 2000 Ethiopian rebels with the Tigray People's Democratic Movement (TPDM) returned from Eritrea in October to pursue a peaceful political struggle.

In addition, in early September, Prime Minister Abiy announced that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops would withdraw from the border, several months after the two former rivals officially opened the border following two decades of tensions.

Despite these improvements, Ethiopia’s relaxing of authoritarian control has also been accompanied by renewed ethnic tensions. In mid-September ethnic Oromos youths around Addis Ababa were involved in violent clashes that killed 23 people over a single weekend. Federal Police reported that at least 600 people involved in the violence were arrested. The clashes reportedly erupted during preparations for the welcoming celebrations of the OLF group, after a disagreement ensued between ethnic Oromo and Addis Ababa youths. The clashes were sparked by objections to OLF supporters displaying the flag and colours of their movement.

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th September 2018, police fired tear gas in Addis Ababa to disperse crowds in the wake of clashes between OLF supporters and some residents of Addis Ababa. Police also confirmed that five people were killed on 17th September during clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Addis Ababa who were protesting against the killings and violence of the prior two days. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in the country and were at the centre of massive protests that began in 2016 amid claims that the central government had politically and socially disenfranchised them for decades.

On 15th September 2018, despite ongoing clashes, hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Addis Ababa’s Meskel square, waving OLF flags, to welcome the OLF leader and others who had returned to the country after years of exile in Eritrea.

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.