Reforms Continue as Parties Ready for Promised 2020 Election

As part of Ethiopia’s ongoing reform process, spurred by new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, several contentious laws previously used to silence civil society, are currently being reviewed. In November 2018, several civil society organisations penned a joint letter asking the government to ensure that the draft Charities and Societies (CSO) Proclamation complies with regional and international human rights norms and standards relating to freedom of association. Suggestions included ensuring that the majority of CSO Board members are sourced from civil society through a transparent appointment process, and ensuring that all foreign and domestic CSOs operating in Ethiopia, are able to choose the areas they will work in and permit them to engage in lobbying and advocacy initiatives.

In other positive developments, in mid-November 2018, the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met members of 81 opposition parties to discuss reforming the electoral system, and promised fair elections in 2020. He also promised to open the political arena currently dominated by his EPRDF Coalition, the ruling party which has held power since 1991. The coalition and affiliated parties currently hold all seats in Parliament. Further, on 22nd November 2018, it was reported that opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa, was named head of the National Electoral Board as part of efforts to bring former rebels into the political mainstream. Birtukan who went on self-imposed exile in the United States of America in 2010, recently returned to Ethiopia under an Amnesty granted by Prime Minister Abiy. She was among opposition figures who were arrested in the violent aftermath of the 2005 general elections, after opposition groups challenged EPRDF’s victory. 

On 20th October 2018 authorities released Henok Aklilu, a prominent lawyer who was arrested on 17th October for allegedly advocating for increased autonomy for the capital, Addis Ababa. Henok, a lawyer who is renowned for representing people accused of terrorism related offences, was arrested in his office alongside his friend Michael Melak, with whom he intends to form an association of Addis-born Ethiopians. The two had also been charged for “receiving training from the Palestine Consulate.” 

Peaceful Assembly

After deadly protests in Addis Ababa in late September 2018, some 3,000 youths were arrested, with nearly 1,200 detained at the Tolay Military Camp for a “rehabilitation education.”

According to Amnesty International, majority of the youth were arrested for offences not recognisable under criminal or international law. About 1459 people – were arrested in bars and shisha smoking dens. 94 people were arrested for chewing khat, a mild narcotic leaf, and 31 others were arrested in gambling houses. Another 1,200 youths were arrested for taking part in the 15th September protests. 1,000 of the detained were released on 18th October.

Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Director for east Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes said:

“The majority of people were arrested for perceived offences which are not recognised criminal offences under international law, such as smoking shisha or consuming khat. They must be either charged with a recognizable criminal offence or released. Those arrested for taking part in protests on the recent ethnic clashes must all be released immediately and unconditionally.

On 21st October 2018, 9 people were killed by security forces during a demonstration in Alamata, Tigray Region. According to local sources, at least 50 people were beaten and injured with gunshots by security forces who intervened to disperse the protestors.

On 26th and 27th October 2018, security forces used force to disperse demonstrators in Afar regional state in North Eastern Ethiopia, beating and injuring many and arrested at least 50 people. They were protesting against the local administration and demanding democratic reform and respect for human rights.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 annual prison census, Ethiopia had no incarcerated journalists as at 31st December 2018. The last time Ethiopia was recorded as having no journalists in prison was 2004.