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Ethiopia

Country Profile

In response to mass protests held since November 2015 across the country, which, according to local and international human rights groups, have claimed the lives of over 800 protestors and led to the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands, the Ethiopian Government declared a six-month nationwide State of Emergency in October 2016 that was extended by an additional four months, with an easing on some of the restrictions, on 30 March 2017.

The ACHPR has called for an international, independent, and impartial investigation into allegations of the use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force by security to disperse and suppress peaceful protests in November 2016. The State of Emergency directives give sweeping powers to Command Post, which has been appointed by the House of Representatives to enforce the decree, including the suspension of fundamental and non-derogable political and democratic rights protected by the Ethiopian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and other international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is party.

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Freedom of Association

Three of Ethiopia’s main opposition parties, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), Blue Party, and All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) have claimed that a large number of their leaders and members were targeted by Command Post and arbitrarily arrested. It is reported that tens of UDJ members were arrested both under the State of Emergency and before the decree was announced. AEUP reported that approximately 20 of its members were arrested in the last few weeks.

On 18 November 2016, former UDJ leader Daniel Shibeshi was detained. On October 30 2017, Dr. Merera Gudina, a professor and prominent opposition leader of the Oromo People’s Congress (OFC) was arrested after his return from Brussels where he provided testimony on the current political crisis the European Parliament and accused Ethiopian security forces of committing human rights violations.[1] On 3 March, prosecutors formally charged Dr. Merera with a bid to “dismantle or disrupt social, economic and political activity for political, religious and ideological aim […] under the guise of political party leadership,” according to a charge sheet brought before a high court in Addis Ababa. Dr. Merera was also accused of backing a terrorist group and flouting guidelines of a state of emergency imposed in October during his trip to Belgium.[2]

Local human rights monitors were also informed about the criminal charge against the Wolqayit committee members, who have been targeted by security forces since the beginning of the protests in the Amhara region in July 2016. Members of the committee, including Colonel Demeqe Zewude whose attempted arrest sparked protests in the Amhara capital of Gondar in August 2016, have faced criminal charge under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

Freedom of Expression

In the last six months, freedom of expression in Ethiopia has been severely compromised. Under the current State of Emergency, access to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has been restricted, as attempts to exchange with, report on or display diaspora-based broadcast media like the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT) and the Oromia Media Network (OMN) have been prohibited. The decree restricts the organisation of political campaigns, demonstrations, and any communication that may cause “public disturbance” and unauthorised communication with foreign governments and NGOs. The State of Emergency restricts disseminating information through traditional and social media, and limits mobile Internet communications, particularly Viber and other secure messaging applications.[3]

On 18 October 2016, Abebe Wube, general manager of Ye Qelem Qend newspaper, was arrested by security forces in Addis Ababa. On 11 November 2016, police detained Zone 9 blogger and a co-founder Befeqadu Hailu, who received the 2015 Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) International Press Freedom Award, at his parents’ house in Addis Ababa. CPJ reported that Befeqadu was arrested in relation to an interview he gave to Voice of America’s Amharic service, criticising the government’s handling of protests. [4] Abebe and Befeqadu were released on 22 December 2016, along with thousands of other detainees who had been arrested under the State of Emergency.

On 18 November 2016, journalists Elias Gebru and Ananiya Sori were arrested by security forces. Ananiya, an outspoken journalist and former political activist, was arrested following his criticism of government policies in reaction to the protests during a radio debate organised by the pro-government Fana Broadcasting in October 2016. Elias, a freelance journalist and social media activist, was reportedly arrested in relation to his political analysis and articles published on social media. Ananiya was released on 13 March 2017. At the time of publication  Elias is still being held in prison without due process of law.[5]

In March 2017, Amnesty International published the testimony of torture survivor Seyoum Teshome, a university professor and blogger, who was arrested in September 2016 and charged with incitement of violence against the State.[6] After these charges were dropped, Seyoum was sent to Tolay military camp together with thousands of others and released on 22 December 2016.[7]

On 6 April 2017, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective previously acquitted of terrorism charge should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnael Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The court also upheld the lower court’s acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella.[8]

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Freedom of assembly has been heavily restricted under the State of Emergency. Since it was implemented, reports from local and international monitoring groups suggest that tens of thousands have been arbitrary arrested and transported to different military centres throughout the country. Most of the detainees have been held for about three months in Awash, Alage, Bir Sheleko, and Tolay military camps. In late March, state media announced that Command Post – which is charged with overseeing the martial law – said 4,996 of the 26,130 people detained for allegedly taking part in protests would be brought to court. [9] Since December 2016, authorities announced the release of 11,607 people who were detained under the State of Emergency following “rehabilitation training programs.” Many of them have been reportedly subjected to torture, harsh prison conditions, and other forms ill treatment.

On 18 April 2017, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission submitted its second oral report to Parliament on the protests that occurred in parts of Oromia, Amhara, and SNNPR regions. The Commission outlined that 669 people were killed, including 63 members of the security forces, and concluded that security forces had taken “proportionate measures in most areas.” [10]


[1] Al Jazeera, “Ethiopia: Oromo opposition leader arrested”, 1 December 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/ethiopia-oromo-opposition-leader-arrested-161201105801067.html, Accessed 3 May 2017.

[2] Reuters, “Ethiopian opposition leader pleads not guilty to incitement charges”, March 3 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-court-idUSKBN16A1YI, Accessed 3 May 2017.

[3] Horn Affairs, “Ethiopia: Directive for the Execution of the State of Emergency [full text]”, 19 October 2016, http://hornaffairs.com/2016/10/19/ethiopia-directive-execution-state-emergencyfull-text/, Accessed on 7 May 2017

[4] Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, “Ethiopia: End State of Emergency restrictions on political dissent and targeting of human rights defenders”, 6 December 2017, https://ahrethio.org/2016/12/06/ethiopia-end-state-of-emergency-restrictions-on-political-dissent-and-targeting-of-human-rights-defenders/, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[5] Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, “Ethiopia: Detained journalist Elias Gebru denied due process”, 6 May 2017, https://ahrethio.org/2017/05/06/ethiopia-detained-journalist-elias-gebru-denied-due-process/, Accessed on 7 May 2017

[6] Seyoum Teshome, Amnesty International, “A license to torture”, 28 March 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/03/a-license-to-torture/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=article&utm_term&utm_campaign=social, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[7] Front Line Defenders, “Seyoum Teshome released”, 22 December 2016, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/seyoum-teshome-released, Accessed 2 May 2017.

[8] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges”, 6 April 2017, https://cpj.org/2017/04/ethiopia-supreme-court-says-two-zone-9-bloggers-sh.php, Accessed 2 May 2017.

[9] Ethiopian Satelite Television and Radio, “Ethiopia: Regime to charge 5000 protesters”, 28 March 2017, https://ethsat.com/2017/03/ethiopia-regime-charge-5000-protesters/, Accessed 2 May 2017.

[10] Human Rights Watch, “Fear of Investigation: What Does Ethiopia’s Government Have to Hide?”, April 21 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/21/fear-investigation-what-does-ethiopias-government-have-hide, Accessed 7 May 2017.

Latest News

HRC35: Addressing the pervasive human rights crisis in Ethiopia

Ahead of the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council, a coalition of civil society organisations calls upon Member States to support the establishment of an independent, impartial, and international investigation in into alleged violations committed by Ethiopian security forces.

25 May 2017

Publications

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10 Year Anniversary Publication

On 27th October 2015, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) celebrated ten years of defending human right activists throughout the East and Horn of Africa. To mark this occasion, EHAHRDP has produced an anniversary publication.    

27 October 2015
Caught up in Bitter Contests: report on human rights defenders working in the context of elections

The report details the tactics used by the Sudanese, Ethiopian, Burundian and Ugandan governments to limit the operating environment for civil society in advance of elections.

30 September 2015