Thousands still detained as state of emergency continues to deny rights
Mass arrests, arbitrary detentions and restrictions on civic rights continue unabated under Ethiopia's state of emergency. As we previously reported, emergency measures imposed in October to curtail widening anti-government protests, have permitted authorities to suspend fundamental civic freedoms under the guise of maintaining national security. In an illustration of the wide-ranging clampdown, it is estimated that at least 24,000 people have been arrested for their participation in protests since the unrest began; many are being held without charge. While authorities recently announced the release of 9,800 individuals, this number represents less than half of those detained. Prison officials also announced that 2,449 detainees would be arraigned in court on suspicion of “instigating and participating in the violence." Prisoners have reportedly been required to follow a six-part patriotic course that includes elements such as “Constitutional Democracy", "Colour Revolutions" and "Ethiopian Renaissance" prior to their release.
On 8th November, Ethiopian authorities took tentative steps towards repealing the state of emergency. Defence Minister Siraj Fegesa announced that foreign diplomats would again be allowed to travel beyond a radius of 40 kilometres outside of Addis Ababa without notifying the Command Post, saying that “peace and stability has been restored.” Under a revision of Article 28, security officers conducting a search should now display proper identification, explain the reasons for the search, and allow observers. Almost all other restrictions remain in place.
On 30th November, prominent opposition leader Merera Gudina, chairperson of the Oromo Federalist Congress, was arrested after returning from a trip from Brussels. Along with other activists, Gudina voiced concerns over the human rights situation in Ethiopia during a visit to the European Parliament where he met with several Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to discuss restrictions on civil and political freedoms. Mr Gudina was detained for violating Article 2 under the state of emergency, which prohibits communication with “banned terrorist organisations and anti-peace groups.” The move have been viewed by many as indicative of the repressive measures against political dissents in Ethiopia. With many fearing that Gudina could be subjected to mistreatment during detention, MEPs drew attention to the case, as documented in the video below.
A new report by Amnesty International released on 14th December, documented the systematic and illegal blocking of social media, social messaging and news websites in order to prevent independent reporting on human rights abuses. In particular, the bans were used to prevent coverage of the excessive use of force by Ethiopian security forces during protests. In a statement, Amnesty drew attention to research conducted with the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) in Ethiopia, which illustrates the chilling nature of the restrictions:
'Our findings provide incontrovertible evidence of systematic interference with access to numerous websites belonging to independent news organisations and political opposition groups, as well as sites supporting freedom of expression and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights.'
Reports from the ground state that 3G mobile network coverage was restored in the capital Addis Ababa on 2nd December after a two-month shutdown.