journalists attacked and internet shut downs continue despite progressive reform drive

Government signs peace deal with Eritrea, opposition movements removed from 'terrorist list' in new wave of government reforms

As previously reported on the on the CIVICUS Monitor, on 9th July 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki signed a historic declaration to end the "state of war" which has long seen the repression of basic human rights and freedoms in Eritrea.  

In Ethiopia, the signing of the peace deal is part of a reform drive by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. Amid these developments, on 7th August 2018 the Ethiopian government signed an agreement to end hostilities with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). This followed the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the group in early July after the Ethiopian Parliament removed it from a contentious list of banned terrorist groups maintained by the previous government since 2008.

The agreement partly states that “the OLF will conduct its political activities in Ethiopia through peaceful means”.

The secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Ginbot7 opposition movement were also removed from the list. Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ginbot 7 have each previously been engaged in armed struggles against the Ethiopian government.

As part of the reforms, on July 12th, the president of the Ethiopia’s Somali region, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, announced that his provincial government had released thousands of inmates who had been jailed for their involvement with the ONLF. He proceeded to say that plans were underway to turn the prisons into schools and hospitals.

Expression

On 22nd June, Ethiopian authorities allowed access to two hundred and sixty four previously blocked websites, news outlets, and blogs, including diaspora-based outlets like the Oromia Media Network and Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio.

Committee to Protect Journalists, Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said;

"Allowing Ethiopians to access these news outlets is a positive sign that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is committed to delivering his promise to end Ethiopia's censorship of the independent press …we ask the prime minister to now amend laws that restrict free speech and to end a system of surveillance that has long been used to intimidate journalists."

In separate developments, on 13th July, a news crew from state-owned Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency was attacked in Meiso, Oromia State, by a group of unknown people who accused them of being spies. The news crew who were travelling to Addis Ababa to cover a visit by the Eritrean president to Ethiopia were then taken to the police station by the attackers. However, their driver Suleiman Mahamed, who left the police station alone after being released was again assaulted in a separate attack which left him in a coma state. He died in hospital on 19th July due to injuries sustained to his head and ribs. Although it is not known who his assailants were, it is believed that the initial attackers may have been responsible for the second attack.

CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal in Durban said;

"The gains that Ethiopia has made in recent months, improving the media freedom environment under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, will vanish if journalists are violently attacked with impunity …it is the duty of the government to ensure that the attack on the Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency crew is rigorously and credibly investigated. Those who killed media worker Suleiman Mahamed must face justice in court."

Despite the ongoing reforms that promise to open up civic space in the country, the Ethiopian government recently cut off Internet connections in the eastern parts of the country in early August, the first time they have done so since lifting the state of emergency in June 2018. The shutdown was allegedly in response to ongoing violence in the Somali region.