In Ethiopia, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and association are systematically undermined and suppressed by a combination of legislative and extra-legal limitations.
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.
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.
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.
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.