5,000 face trial for taking part in anti-government protests
In late March 2017, the State of Emergency Command Post in Ethiopia announced that 4,996 of a total of 26,130 people detained for taking part in protests from 2015 will soon be tried in court. Since November 2016, more than 20,000 detained protesters have been released, many of whom reported being subjected to torture, harsh prison conditions and other forms of ill treatment while in prison.
On 18th April 2017, Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission reported that a total of 669 people, including 63 police officers, have died since August 2016 due to persistent violence in the aftermath of anti-government protests that started in November 2015 in the Oromia and Amhara regions. Human rights groups have disputed the official state numbers as well as claims by the state-affiliated Commission that the security forces used “proportionate force” during the unrest and that opposition groups were to blame for the violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the European Parliament, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights and national and international civil society groups have issued numerous calls for an independent, impartial investigation into the deaths and human rights violations taking place during and after the anti-government protests.
Freedom of expression in Ethiopia remains severely restricted with little evidence of any improvements in recent months. Under the current State of Emergency directives, access to social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, is highly restricted, and mobile Internet communication remains limited in parts of the country. Ethiopia currently ranks 150 out of 180 on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index published in April by Reporters without Borders, dropping eight places from the 2016 Index. Journalists and bloggers continue to face prosecution, arbitrary arrest, harassment and threats.
On 26th May 2017, the Ethiopian Federal High Court convicted Getashew Shiferaw, editor of the news website Negere Ethiopia, on charges of “inciting others to obstruct an official from his constitutional duties” under articles 257A and D of the Ethiopian penal code. The charges are based on allegations that Shiferaw told journalist Abebe Gellaw in a private Facebook messages to intervene publicly against former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as a “good alternate method of struggle”. Shiferaw denies that the online exchanges took place.
Just one day earlier, Yonatan Tesfaye of the opposition party Semayawi (Blue Party) was convicted and sentenced to six years and three months in prison for “encouraging terrorism” in critical comments he posted on Facebook in 2015 during the wave of anti-government protests.