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Seyoum Teshome is a professor at a university in Ethiopia and writes to fight the spread of fear that has engulfed his country as a result of an increasingly repressive administration. In September 2016, Seyoum was arrested and charged with incitement to violence against the state. In this blog, he describes the treatment of prisoners in one of Ethiopia’s rehabilitation centres, where he was detained further to his arrest. Thousands of Ethiopians like Seyoum have been arrested and tortured in rehabilitation centres since the state of emergency was imposed in October 2016.
It was around 6:30 am on 30 September 2016 when I was rudely awakened by loud knocks on my door and someone shouting out my name. Peeping through the keyhole, I saw around 10 local police officers. Some of them were staring at the door while others were guarding the corridor.
I said to myself, “Yap! At last…here you go, they have come for you!”
One of them asked if I was Mr Seyoum Teshome to which I replied in the affirmative. They said they wanted to talk to me for a moment, so I opened the door. They showed me a court warrant which gave them permission to search my house. The warrant indicated that I had illegal weapons and pamphlets to incite violence against the government.
Accused without evidence
After searching my entire house and despite finding no signs of the said items, they arrested and took me to a local police station. They also carried off my laptop, smartphone, notebooks and some papers. Confident that they hadn’t found the items mentioned in the court warrant, I was certain of my release. However, three hours later, I found myself being interrogated by a local public prosecutor and two police investigators. The interrogation eventually led to the commencement of a legal charge.
I was scheduled to sit a PhD entry exam on 2 October 2017 at Addis Ababa University, something I had been working towards for a very long time. Throughout the interrogation, my pleas for the case to be hastened so that I wouldn’t miss the rare opportunity to pursue a PhD course fell on deaf ears. My colleagues had provided a car and allowance fee for a police officer to go with me to the university so that I could sit the exam. This is a standard procedure. Yet on that day, they were not willing to lend me a hand. I was stuck in pre-trial detention due to Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and missed my chance.
Little did I know that, in just 12 hours, I would be the state’s guest for merely expressing my opinion.
The day before my arrest, I had given an interview to Deutche Welle-Amharic radio station about the nation-wide teachers meeting where I commented that, in Ethiopia, expressing one’s own opinion could lead to arrest, exile or possibly death. Little did I know that, in just 12 hours, I would be the state’s guest for merely expressing my opinion.
On 3 October 2016, I was presented in court. I was accused of writing articles and posts on social media sites aiming to incite violence against the government. In addition to the two notebooks and papers they had taken from my house, the investigator had also printed 61 pages of the 58 articles I posted on the Horn Affairs website that year. In total, they brought more than 200 pages of written and printed writings as evidence to support their allegations. I denied all the charges.
Another court session was scheduled in 10 days to allow the police to conclude their investigations. The 10 days lapsed and the police requested an additional seven days to complete their investigations on me while denying me bail.
On 20 October 2016, a jury found there was no evidence to support the police department’s claims. I thought the matter was over but I was immediately accused of contravening the State of Emergency that had been declared on 9 October 2017. A piece of paper with some writing on it was presented as evidence to support the charge.
The Police initially took me to Tolay Military Camp and later transferred me, together with others arrested, to Woliso Woreda Police Station in central Ethiopia, outside Addis Ababa. We were shoved into a 3×5 metres squared detention room where we joined more than 45 other people already there. It was very hard to find a place to sit. I survived suffocation by breathing through a hole beneath the door. After that terrible night, I was taken back to Tolay where I stayed until 21 December, 2016 – 56 days after my arrest.
Access to food in the first 20 days was limited. We were made to walk while crouching with our hands behind our heads. We also walked barefoot to and from the toilet and dining areas. Due to this treatment, three of my fellow detainees suffered cardiac arrest. I don’t know whether or not they survived. I also heard that a woman’s pregnancy was terminated.
Every day, a police officer came to our room and called out the names of detainees to be taken for the so-called “investigation.” When they returned, the detainees had downtrodden faces and horrible wounds on their backs and legs. Waiting for one’s name to be called was agony.
It took eight days before my name was finally called. I sat in front of five investigators flanked on either side by two others. While I was being interrogated, detainees in another room were being beaten. I could hear them crying and begging their torturers to stop.
Moved by what I had witnessed, I decided to secretly gather the detainees’ information. It didn’t take long before I was discovered by the authorities. On a hot afternoon, they came to my room and called my name. A group of investigators ruthlessly began beating me, to the point where I fainted three times. The beatings were unbearable so I finally confessed to collecting information in the camp. The chief investigator was then called in so that I could also confess to him.
By then, I had gained enough strength to renounce my earlier confessions which angered the Chief Investigator very much. He drew a pistol and threatened to kill me for making a fool out of them. I stretched turned around and spread my arms wide. Then, I said, “Fear of death doesn’t make me confess against myself! Go ahead, shoot!”
Amazingly, the commander ordered me to go to my room and take a shower. I didn’t believe it. I still don’t. I quickly ran off. I was released a little over two weeks later.
Though I finally left Tolay, those memories and emotions are still with me. Though I am still afraid of another arbitrary arrest and being sent back to prison, what I fear more is the totalitarian state that complete denies freedom. . While there, I told myself that, if I made it out, I would raise international awareness on the government’s outrageous treatment of prisoners.
The death of more than 60 people in a landslide at a vast rubbish dump on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital over the weekend is a clear case of dereliction of duty by the Ethiopian authorities, said Amnesty International today.
Dozens are still missing since the landslide at the 36-hectare Repi municipal dumpsite in Addis Ababa on 11 March, and many families have been left homeless after their makeshift houses were buried under tonnes of waste.
“The Ethiopian government is fully responsible for this totally preventable disaster. It was aware that the landfill was full to capacity but continued to use it regardless. It also let hundreds of people continue to live in close proximity to it,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Ethiopian government is fully responsible for this totally preventable disaster. It was aware that the landfill was full to capacity but continued to use it regardless
“These people, including many women and children, had no option but to live and work in such a hazardous environment because of the government’s failure to protect their right to adequate housing, and decent work.”
Now in its fifth decade, Repi – also known as Koshe, which means “dust” – is the oldest landfill in Addis Ababa, a city of more than 3.6 million people. More than 150 people were at the site when the landslide happened. Many of them had been scavenging items for sale while others lived there permanently, in unsafe makeshift housing.
“The government must do everything in its power to account for all those who are missing, provide survivors with adequate alternative housing, and safe and healthy working conditions,” said Muthoni Wanyeki.
“It must also ensure that a full-fledged inquiry is held to determine the specific causes of the landslide, and hold the individual officials responsible to account.”
Befeqadu Hailu, a member of the Zone-9 blogging group was arrested for criticizing the State of Emergency Declaration, in an interview he gave to the Voice of America. In this note, he shares what he witnessed during his stay at Awash Sebat Military Training Centre, which was turned into a rehabilitation centre for people arrested during the State of Emergency.
Wakoma Tafa was planning to get married on Sunday 9 October 2016, when the police arrested him just three days before his wedding day in Alem Gena -a town 25kms west of Addis Ababa. On his would-be wedding day, the Police took Wakoma to Awash Sebat Federal Police Training Centre, turned into a ‘rehab centre’ (Tehadiso Maekel) as per the Ethiopia’s State of Emergency.
I met Wakoma after the Command Post (a special unit established to to enforce the state of emergency declaration measures) transferred me to Awash Sebat along with 242 other ‘suspects’ from Addis Ababa. Together, we were over 1000 people.
The day we arrived at the center, we saw many youngsters in worn-out dirty shirts, walking barefoot in two lines. A fellow detainee related that it looked like a scene from the movie series ‘Roots’.
A scene from ‘Roots’?
The day we arrived at the center, we saw many youngsters in worn-out dirty shirts, walking barefoot in two lines. A fellow detainee related that it looked like a scene from the movie series ‘Roots’.
Later, we found out that the police were taking them to the sandy field at the back of the compound for physical exercises every day after breakfast. The exercises included frog-jumping, push-ups, sit-ups and supporting their body for long in a push-up position. The hot ground burnt their palms. The police encouraged those too tired to continue by beating them.
Oromia Police, who were in charge of the interrogations, thrashed, kicked, and punched the detainees during interrogation. The purpose of the interrogations was to find out the level of their participation and to name the others in the protests. During the 33 days of our stay, Wakoma’s nose was bleeding every day since a police officer kicked him during interrogation. Nurses at the centre could not stop his bleeding. However, Wakoma was not the only one tortured during interrogations. Most of the ‘suspects’ who were in Awash Sebat for 40 days before our arrival sustained varying degrees of beating, slapping and kicking.
A new normal
Then, our turn came to be paraded, bare footed, to the open pits within the Centre’s compound. The gravel path was hard to walk on barefoot but the yelling of officers dangling their sticks was enough incentive to run on it. Once we reached the toilet pits, we had to sit side by side and do our business. None of us was willing to do it the first day. Later on, we accepted that it as the new normal.
For breakfast, they gave us half-cup of tea and two loaves of bread. I noticed the youngsters, who were there before us, enjoying the additional loaf of bread. Before our arrival, they had only one during breakfasts.
They spread us into 10 different halls each harboring more than one hundred detainees. Each room has sixteen double-decker beds enough for only thirty-two people; the rest shared mattresses on the floor. The rooms have ventilators but not enough to cool the heat. In addition, there was not enough water –not even to drink. In the 33 days of my stay, I was able to wash only two times.
On day two of the parading, the Command Post sent a team to start our ‘rehabilitation training’. They also allowed us to wear shoes. Unfortunately, nearly half of the detainees who were there before us had no shoes when they arrived at the Centre 40 days prior to our arrival.
The state of emergency Inquiry Board came and spoke to notable opposition party members such as Abebe Akalu, Eyasped Tesfaye, and Blen Mesfin. They reported the rights violations we were facing in detail. However, we learnt that the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, the state-broadcaster, reported only logistic problems, entirely leaving out complaints of rights violations.
Most detainees from Addis Ababa, however, complained to the officials that they are victims of personal revenge. Some said people with personal grudges against them tipped their names to the police. Similarly, most detainees from the Oromia regional state maintained they were victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of the clips they regularly showed on the screen was the Afaan Oromo song, ‘Madda Seenaa’by artist Teferi Mekonen. Ironically, Teferi Mekonen was among us. On our “graduation” day, he was invited to perform on the stage. He pleased us all by singing the politically charged Oromifaa song, ‘Maalan Jira’, by the prominent Oromo artist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. Sadly, Teferi Mekonen is re-arrested immediately after our release from Awash Sebat. I was shocked to see him in a prison here in Addis Ababa when I went to visit my friends, journalists Annania Sori and Elias Gebru.
A day before we left the centre, the police told us we had to wear a t-shirt on which ‘ayidegemim/Irra hin deebiamu’ (never again) is printed in Amharic and Oromifa. None of us hesitated to wear the t-shirts – they were fresh and clean and our souls were desperately looking beyond the centre and to getting back to our homes; we were exhausted and looking forward to resume the life we left.
There were 17 women among the detainees and one of them was pregnant. There were also about 15 underage boys. We were all in it together and we all survived.
I am hoping that the 28 years old Wakoma can re-organize his wedding again.
At the end of 2016 Amnesty International published a report titled Ethiopia Offline: Evidence of Social Media Blocking and Internet Censorship in Ethiopia. This report documented how social media and networks in Addis Ababa and the Oromia region were being blocked by the Ethiopian government. Among the more alarming findings is that AI and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), who co-authored the report, detected the use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology, which can be used to monitor and filter internet traffic. The Ethiopian government appears to be using the technology for “mass surveillance internet censorship.” The government’s actions constitute a violation of Ethiopia’s obligations to protect freedom of expression under the African Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and also drastically restricts access to information for the Ethiopian people.The internet crackdown is linked to a brutal crackdown by the government in response to protests that started in the Oromo region in November 2015 against the Addis Ababa City Integrated Development Master Plan. This led to nationwide protests following a stampede in Oromia region on October 2, 2016 that followed attacks on foreign and local businesses. In response to the attacks and the protests, the Ethiopian government declared a State of Emergency (SOE) on October 9, 2016. The government declared that under the SOE they could “restrict freedom of expression where such freedom is abused”, and imposed a wide range of restrictions on internet access. The government also arrested more than 11,000 people charging them with “violence and property damage.”
Based on the standards of the ICCPR, the State of Emergency in Ethiopia has resulted in many derogations that fail to meet international human rights law. For example, the Ethiopian government established a Command Post whose purpose was to “stop any media, prohibit any assembly and search and seize any person or place.” Under the SOE, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter were either blocked or inaccessible in Ethiopia, especially in the Oromia region. Further, certain types of URLs were blocked, including news media, web pages of political opposition, LGBTI, calling for freedom of expression, and circumvention tools such as Tor and Psiphon.
The Ethiopian government continues to misuse the Anti-terrorism Proclamation (ATP) legislation to charge and arrest people critical of government policies or actions. Amnesty International believes that “the acts of censorship, conducted outside a clear legal framework, over several months and affecting dozens of websites and social media platforms as well as the State of Emergency itself – which is so broadly drafted violates Ethiopia’s international legal obligations and permits violations of numerous human rights.”
These violations include the arrest of a number of government critics such as Bekele Gerba, a leading Oromo human rights activist, Eskinder Nega a prominent journalist and a human rights defender. Who was sentenced to 18 years in jail after he wrote articles demanding freedom of expression and an end to torture in Ethiopia.. Yonatan Tesfaye, a prominent opposition figure facing a possible death sentence due to his Facebook post opposing a government plan to extend the capital’s administrative authority to the Oromia region and Merera Gudina, a human rights activist and leader in the Oromo community.
An untold number of Ethiopians are subject to human rights violations as a result of the State of Emergency, the Anti-terrorism Proclamation and other legislation that the government is using to impose order, and, according to the government, restore peace and security.
As 2017 begins however, the government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn will face very stark truths. In can continue down the current path of increasing repression, and jail anyone who it considers unacceptable, creating a nationwide detention camp, or
it can display the leadership the country needs by ending the State of Emergency, allowing an independent commission of inquiry into the protests that have shaken the country for the last two years, repeal the draconian laws it created to silence opposition, and release the scores of prisoners that it will need to talk to and work with to address the governance and human rights challenges the country is facing.
Google transparency report shows dramatic drop in internet traffic out of Ethiopia on two days when at least 100 people were killed by security forces during protest
16 news sites and access to WhatsApp blocked between June and October
“As far as the Ethiopian government is concerned, social media is a tool for extremists… The reality, though, is very different” – Michelle Kagari
The Ethiopian government systematically and illegally blocked access to social media and news websites in its efforts to crush dissent and prevent reporting of attacks on protesters by security forces during a wave of protests over the last year, a new report released today shows.
Research conducted by Amnesty International and the Open Observatory of Network Interference shows that between June and October this year during times of heightened tension and protests, access to WhatsApp and at least 16 news outlets was blocked, especially in the Oromia region.
Since November last year, thousands of people from Oromia have taken to the streets to protest against possible land seizures under the government’s Addis Ababa Masterplan, which aims to expand the capital’s administrative control into the region. The government declared a six-month state of emergency in October this year in response to the protests.
The study was conducted to investigate whether and to what extent internet censorship was actually taking place after contacts of Amnesty and the Open Observatory of Network Interference in Ethiopia consistently reported unusually slow internet connections and inability to access social media websites.
Testimonies gathered by Amnesty from different parts of Oromia found that social media mobile applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, have been largely inaccessible since early March this year, especially in the Oromia region where residents were waging protests against the government since last November.
The Ethiopian government is also reported to have blocked access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Viber during the National University Exam week (9 – 14 July 2016) so as “to prevent students being distracted from studying during the exam period”.
Amnesty contacts also reported that internet access on mobile devices had been completely blocked in Amhara, Addis Ababa and Oromia in the lead up to protests in the three regions on 6 and 7 August.
This was confirmed in Google’s transparency reports for the period between July and November this year, which showed a dramatic drop in internet traffic out of Ethiopia on the two days when at least 100 people were killed by security forces during the protests.
Amnesty International’s Deputy East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes Director Michelle Kagari said:
“It’s clear that as far as the Ethiopian government is concerned, social media is a tool for extremists peddling bigotry and hate and therefore they are fully justified in blocking internet access. The reality, though, is very different. The widespread censorship has closed another space for Ethiopian’s to air the grievances that fuelled the protests.
“The internet blocking had no basis in law, and was another disproportionate and excessive response to the protests. This raises serious concerns that overly broad censorship will become institutionalised under the state of emergency.
“Rather than closing off all spaces for people to express their concerns, the authorities need to actively engage with, and address the underlying human rights violations that have fuelled the protests over the last year. “We urge the government to refrain from blocking access to internet sites and instead commit its resources to addressing its citizens’ legitimate grievances.”
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology used to filter websites
The report also found that the Ethiopian government uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology to filter access to websites. DPI is a technology that can be bought and deployed on any network. Though it has many legitimate functions, it can also enable monitoring and filtering of internet traffic.
The Open Observatory of Network Interference’s Maria Xynou said:
“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.
“Tor Metrics data illustrate that more and more people were trying to access censorship circumvention tools, such as TOR, which indicated that the internet was inaccessible through the normal routes. This all paints a picture of a government intent on stifling expression and free exchange of information.”
Ethiopia has been hit by a wave of protests since November 2015 when ethnic Oromos took to the streets to protest against possible land seizures under the government’s Addis Ababa Masterplan, which aimed to expand the capital’s administrative control into Oromia.
The protests later spread to Amhara, with demands for an end to arbitrary arrests, as well as respect for regional autonomy rights enshrined in the constitution.
Most of the protests were met with excessive force from the security forces. The worst incident involved the death of possibly hundreds of protesters in a stampede on 2 October at Bishoftu.
Protest groups say the stampede was caused by the security forces’ unnecessary and excessive use of force. The government has denied this, instead blaming the deaths on “anti-peace forces.”
Nearly one year on from the start of a wave of protests that has left at least 800 people dead at the hands of security forces, the Ethiopian government must take concrete steps to address grave human rights concerns in the country, Amnesty International said today.
The protests began in the central Oromia region on 12 November 2015, in opposition to the Addis Ababa Masterplan, a government plan to extend the capital Addis Ababa’s administrative control into parts of the Oromia.
A year after these deadly protests began, tensions in Ethiopia remain high and the human rights situation dire
“A year after these deadly protests began, tensions in Ethiopia remain high and the human rights situation dire, with mass arrests internet shutdowns and sporadic clashes between the security forces and local communities, especially in the north of the country,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“It’s high time the Ethiopian authorities stopped paying lip service to reform and instead took concrete steps to embrace it, including by releasing the myriad political prisoners it is holding merely for expressing their opinions. They should also repeal the repressive laws that imprisoned them in the first place, including the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that has also contributed to the unrest.”
Even after the Addis Ababa Masterplan was scrapped in January 2016, protests continued with demonstrators demanding an end to human rights violations, ethnic marginalization and the continued detention of Oromo leaders.
The protests later expanded into the Amhara region with demands for an end to arbitrary arrests and ethnic marginalization. They were triggered by attempts by the security forces to arrest Colonel Demeka Zewdu, one of the leaders of the Wolqait Identity and Self-Determination Committee, on alleged terrorism offences. Wolqait, an administrative district in the Tigray region, has been campaigning for reintegration into the Amhara region, to which it belonged until 1991.
Just as in Oromia, security forces responded with excessive and lethal force in their efforts to quell the protests. Amnesty International estimates that at least 800 people have been killed since the protests began, most of them in the two regions.
The Ethiopian government’s heavy-handed response to largely peaceful protests started a vicious cycle of protests and totally avoidable bloodshed. If it does not address the protesters’ grievances, we are concerned that it is only a matter of time before another round of unrest erupts
One of the worst single incidents took place on 2 October 2016 when at least 55 people were trampled to death in a stampede during the Oromo religious festival of Irrecha, held in the town of Bishoftu, about 45 kilometres southeast of Addis Ababa. Oromo activists blamed the stampede on the security forces who they said fired live rounds and tear gas into the crowd causing a panic. The authorities deny any wrongdoing.
No protests have been observed since a state of emergency was declared on 9 October, but this has come at the steep price of increased human rights violations, including mass arbitrary arrests and media restrictions, including internet blockages.
“The Ethiopian government’s heavy-handed response to largely peaceful protests started a vicious cycle of protests and totally avoidable bloodshed. If it does not address the protesters’ grievances, we are concerned that it is only a matter of time before another round of unrest erupts,” said Michelle Kagari.
“The restrictive measures imposed as part of the state of emergency only sweeps the underlying issues under the carpet. To fully address the situation, the government must genuinely commit to human rights, including by amending legislation like the anti-terrorism proclamation to bring it fully in line with Ethiopia’s human rights obligations; and ensure its people can enjoy their right to express their opinions including those which criticise government policy and action; and their right to peaceful assembly.”
Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 includes an overly broad and vague definition of terrorist acts and a definition of “encouragement of terrorism” that makes the publication of statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has repeatedly promised to undertake fundamental reform in governance, but has shown no overt sign of genuine commitment to reform. It continues to use excessive force against largely peaceful protesters, labelling them as anti-peace forces, instead of acknowledging and addressing their legitimate grievances.
A group of civil society organizations are calling for an independent and impartial international investigation into human rights violations in Ethiopia, including the unlawful killing of peaceful protesters and a recent spate of arrests of civil society members documenting this crackdown.
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Project), the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), Amnesty International, the Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP), Front Line Defenders, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), are concerned about the levels of persecution and detention of civil society members in the country. Since last month, four members of one of Ethiopia’s most prominent human rights organizations, the Human Rights Council (HRCO), were arrested and detained in the Amhara and Oromia regions. HRCO believes these arrests are related to the members’ monitoring and documentation of the crackdown of on-going protests in these regions.
On 14 August, authorities arrested Tesfa Burayu, Chairperson of HRCO’s West Ethiopian Regional Executive Committee at his home in Nekemte, Oromia. Tesfa, who had been monitoring the protests for the organization, was denied access to his family and his lawyer, and released on 16 August without charge. Two days earlier on 12 August, Abebe Wakene, also a member of HRCO, was arrested and taken to the Diga district police station in Oromia. Abebe Wakene remains in detention with no formal charges against him. In addition, on 13 August, Tesfaye Takele, a human rights monitor in the Amhara region, was arrested in the North Wollo zone and is still detained without charge.
The lack of independent and transparent investigation of human rights violations in Ethiopia strongly implies that the Ethiopian government’s investigation of the ongoing human rights crisis will not be independent, impartial and transparent.
HRCO’s human rights monitors were arrested for attempting to document the large-scale pro-democracy protests and the following violent crackdown by the authorities in the Oromia and Amhara regions, as well as in the capital Addis Ababa on 6 and 7 August. Amnesty International reported that close to 100 protesters were killed and scores more arrested during the largely peaceful protests.
Three journalists were also arrested and detained by Ethiopian security officials for 24 hours on 8 August 2016 in the Shashemene area of the Oromo region. According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Ethiopia, Hadra Ahmed, a correspondent with Africa News Agency, was arrested along with Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) reporters Fred de Sam Lazaro and Thomas Adair, despite having proper accreditation. They were reporting on the government’s response to the drought in the Oromia region, where protests have been ongoing since November 2015. Their passports and equipment were confiscated and they were forced to return to Addis Ababa.
“Despite the systematic repression of peaceful protestors, political dissents, journalists and human rights defenders, the absence of efficient and effective grievance redress mechanisms risks plunging the country into further turmoil,” said Yared Hailemariam, Executive Director of AHRE.”
Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has the mandate to investigate rights violations in Ethiopia, has failed to make public its own June report on the Oromo protests, whileconcluding in its oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. Since November 2015, at least 500 demonstrators have been killed and thousands of others arrested in largely peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions and other locations across the country.
“The lack of independent and transparent investigation of human rights violations in Ethiopia strongly implies that the Ethiopian government’s investigation of the ongoing human rights crisis will not be independent, impartial and transparent” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “It is time to step up efforts for an international and independent investigation in Ethiopia.”
DefendDefenders, AHRE, Amnesty International, EHRP, Front Line Defenders, and FIDH urge the Ethiopian authorities to (i) immediately and unconditionally release civil society members targeted for their work and (ii) facilitate access for international human rights monitoring bodies including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into the ongoing human rights violations in the Oromia, Amhara and Addis Ababa areas.
By Adotei Akwei,Managing Director for Government Relations and Kayla Chen, Government Relations and Individuals at Risk Intern at Amnesty International USA
Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a growing trend of evaporating political space. Non-governmental organizations are being heavily and often violently restricted, and newspapers, bloggers and other voices of dissent or criticism are being silenced or intimidated into exile.
In some countries such as Uganda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, heads of state are rewriting their constitutions to eliminate term limits, in the process using security forces to squash protests from both political opposition and civil society. In other countries such as in Angola, the governments make use of their control over their judiciariesto intimidate or bury critics and youth activists in legal processes that cripple them financially or trap in never ending trials. Elsewhere, governments invoke the specter of terrorism and threats to national security as justification for passing sweeping laws whose interpretation empowers them to impose draconian penalties on oppositional parties and civil society, with little regard for international standards of due process or international and regional rights standards on freedom of expression, association and assembly.
In several countries government authorities have cracked down on nonviolent protests with violence. On Monday May 17, the Kenyan security forces brutally beat nonviolent demonstrations organized by the opposition Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to demand the dismissal of the members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
On the 6th of May the Ugandan police beat demonstrators who had gathered after it was announced that opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye would face the death penaltyfor charges of treason.
Ethiopia has been at the forefront of this wave of violent intolerance. Members of the Oromo ethnic group are facing a brutal crackdown following initially peaceful protests that started in the fall of 2015. Some estimates place the number of persons killed at the beginning of 2016 at over 400. Thousands have been detained and hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. The violent crackdown is consistent with the violent security force crackdowns in Oromia in 2014 and in Konso in March 2016 as well as against other protests.
Closing of Political Space in Ethiopia
This is the reality facing Ethiopians whom the government designates opponents of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The government heavily restricts freedom of expression and association, and severely constrains political space, especially for civil society organizations.
In the 2015 elections, the EPRDF and its allies claimed all of 547 seats in Parliament amid concern over the lack of conditions for free and fair elections. It has become virtually impossible to question, challenge or protest against any action of the government. According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Ethiopia ranks 91 out of 102 countries with severe constraints on government powers and fundamental rights. Freedom House also rated the country “not free”. Ethiopia scores 6 out of 7, on a scale of 1-7 from free to not free, on both civil liberties and political rights. Civil society organizations have been forced to close, thousands of political prisoners are languishing in prisons, and human rights defenders who dare to speak out are forcibly imprisoned and beaten.
The use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation Act continues to be used to silence journalists and other critics who dare to speak out. People like noted journalist Eskinder Nega, Oromo leader Bekele Gerba, and Anuak Land rights activist Okello Akway Ochalla are all behind bars and charged with terrorism for opposing the government policies. They are just three individual stories of many who are suffering under the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on human rights.
Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in jail in 2012 for fulfilling his role as a journalist and questioning the use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to arrest those that criticized the government. This was not the first time Eskinder had faced unjust retaliation due to his refusal to be silenced. Eskinder’s son Nafkot was born in prison in 2005 when both Eskinder and hjs wife Serkalem were imprisoned for criticizing the government’s killing of nearly 200 people in post-election protests in 2005. Four years later after he was unjustly convicted and imprisoned once again, Eskinder Nega still languishes behind bars and more convictions have been handed down using the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
Bekele Gerba, a prominent leader of the Oromo Federalist Party, visited the United States last August after his release prior to President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia. He told NPR that Obama’s visit to Ethiopia last summer was a trip that sent the wrong message of solidarity to a repressive government with very little support from its own people. He also expresseduncertainty in regards to his freedom when he returned back to Ethiopia. A few months after his return Bekele was arrested on December 23, 2015 and held in a 4m X 5m cell with 21 others. Bekele and his counterparts were charged on April 22, 2016 with various provisions set forth in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. This charge is clearly meant to silence him and others who dare to criticize and oppose the current regime.
Okello Akway Ochalla, a Norwegian citizen, was abducted from Juba, South Sudan, two years ago and ended up in an Addis Ababa court where he was sentenced to nine years in prison on April 27, 2016. Okello was the governor of the Gambella region, a key location of land grabbing and forced relocation by the Ethiopian Government, before escaping the country following a massacre of his people, the Anuaks, in 2003. Abducted from South Sudan in 2014 and brought back to Ethiopia, Okello was charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for speaking to the international media about the massacre of his people and the ongoing struggle of the people of Gambella. Rights groups are alarmed that the primary evidence used to convict Okello was a confession obtained while Okello was in solitary confinement. There have been reports that Okello was beaten and tortured. His trial highlights serious failures of due process and the rule of law in the Ethiopian courts.
More laws are being drafted by the Ethiopian government that confirm it will continue to suppress opposition and dissent. Current government policies of making access to education, government jobs and services contingent on party membership, forcing citizens to undergo “policy trainings” of indoctrination, and widespread monitoring of all public spaces has created an environment of fear with no room for public debate.
Despite all this, the ruling ERPD still enjoys support from the international community. The United States recently renewed a new defense and security cooperation agreement with Ethiopia, which is being trumpeted as U.S. support of the Ethiopian government’s policies, including the military’s excessive use of force. Ethiopia also continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States, the European Union and other countries in development and humanitarian aid.
It is crucial that governments that commit human rights violations be held to the spotlight and pressed to be accountable. Countries that provide assistance to those governments need to prioritize respect for, and protection of human rights for several reasons.
First, grave human rights violations can further stymy development and it potentially drives voices of dissent to abandon non-violence.
Second, supporting an oppressive regime for the sake of regional security will only further destabilize a region already ravaged by conflict, unclear borders, poverty and lack of respect for the rule of law, all in the pursuit of short term stability.
(Amnesty USA) — The Ethiopian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release a prominent opposition politician facing a possible death sentence on trumped-up terrorism charges over comments he posted on Facebook, said Amnesty International.
Yonatan Tesfaye, the spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party, was arbitrarily arrested in December 2015 and held in lengthy pre-trial detention for comments he posted on Facebook. The government says his posts against a government plan to extend the capital’s administrative authority to the Oromia region were in pursuit of the objectives of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which it considers a terrorist organization.
“The Ethiopian authorities have increasingly labelled all opposition to them as terrorism. Yonatan Tesfaye spoke up against a possible land grab in Oromia, which is not a crime and is certainly not terrorism,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“He and many others held under similar circumstances should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Tesfaye was arbitrarily arrested in December 2015 and held without charge for months on end. It was not until May 4, 2016 that he was charged with “incitement, planning, preparation, conspiracy and attempt” to commit a terrorist act. The state prosecutor charged that Tesfaye’s remarks were in pursuit of the OLF’s objectives.
“Yonatan Tesfaye has no demonstrated links to the OLF. His arrest is just another example of government overreach in the application of its seriously flawed anti-terrorism law. This law is once again being used as a pretext to quash dissent,” said Wanyeki.
The Ethiopian authorities should also promptly, impartially, thoroughly and transparently investigate claims that he may have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention at the Maekelawi Prison, a jail notorious for its widespread use of torture.
ETHIOPIA: FURTHER INFORMATION: DETAINED OROMO PROTESTERS MUST BE RELEASED
By Amnesty International, 17 February 2016, Index number: AFR 25/3437/2016
The Ethiopian authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained a number of peaceful protesters including journalists and opposition party leaders in recent brutal crackdown on protesters in the Oromia Region. Those detained remain at risk of torture and other illtreatment and should immediately and unconditionally be released. Bekele Gerba (Deputy Chair, Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)), Dejene Tafa (party secretary, OFC), Getachew Shiferaw (Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopian online newspaper Negere), Yonathan Teressa (an online activist), and Fikadu Mirkana (Oromia Radio and TV) are among several Oromo peaceful protesters arrested and detained following the Oromia protests in Ethiopia. The arrests came as a result of a brutal government crackdown on the Oromia protests that started in November 2015 against the government’s master plan to integrate parts of Oromia into the capital Addis Ababa. On 15 December, the Ethiopian government labelled the protesters as “terrorists” and escalated its response to the protests resulting in deaths, injuries, and mass arrests.
Dejene Tafa was arrested on 24 December 2015. On the same day, the police conducted an unlawful search on his house. His wife says that the police, who did not have a warrant, planted an Oromo Liberation Front flag and papers in his house during the search which were then seized from the house. Dejene Tafa is currently being held at the Federal Police Central Investigation Centre (Maekelawi) in Addis Ababa without access to lawyers and restricted family visits. His wife has been allowed three visits since his arrest but only in the presence of police officers. During her last visit on 12 February, Dejene Tafa told her that he had been to the Police Hospital due to pain in his eyes, but police officers present prevented them from discussing the health matter further. His wife has said that he did not suffer from any medical condition before his arrest.
Diribie Erga, age 60, was arrested on 18 December 2015 by a group of plain clothed individuals and officers from the Federal Police for participating in the protests and was released on 10 February. Diribie reports being subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during her detention at Maekelawi detention centre. Amnesty International considers the peaceful protesters arrested to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to peaceful assembly. They continue to be at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.
ETHIOPIA: PEACEFUL OROMO PROTESTERS MUST BE RELEASED
By Amnesty International, 6 January 2016, Index number: AFR 25/3148/2016
The Ethiopian authorities arbitrarily arrested a number of peaceful protesters, journalists and opposition party leaders in the context of a brutal crackdown on ongoing protests in the Oromia Region which started in November. Those arrested are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment and should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Blue Party Wins in Addis Ababa with 61.9%, Medrek Wins in Oromia with 52.1%
(Eritrean Press) – IT IS A LANDSLIDE FOR THE OPPOSITIONS
Allen Connelly, a western representative for the exit poll organizing group said, “The exit poll was carried out by a coalition of university student volunteers from Addis Ababa, Jimma and Adama.”
Independent team of college students randomly surveyed thousands of voters statewide on Sunday. The exit poll reportedly cross-examined thousands voters from Oromia and all 10 districts of Addis Ababa. All voters surveyed were asked for their party selection, their age and their ethnicity.
Mr Connelly said his group organized exit polls in Addis Ababa and Oromia state because of shortage of volunteers in other states. Two volunteers were arrested (then later released) by police in Dire Dawa and Ambo while operating the exit polls, added Mr Connelly.
According to the exit poll final results, the ruling party EPRDF received 26.4 percent of the votes in Oromia while the opposition party Medrek got nearly 52.1% (most of them in central and western Oromia zones.)
The OFC branch of Medrek and OPDO branch of EPRDF were the most popular parties mentioned by Oromia voters during the exit polls.
The EDP, UDJ, AEUO and other small opposition parties collectively received only 21.5% in Oromia, according to the survey.
In Addis Ababa city, the unofficial results show the opposition Blue Party won the election with 61.9% while the EDP, UDJ, Medrek and AEUO got a combined 30.6% and the ruling party EPRDF received only 7.5%. The AEUO and EDP parties were more popular among the older age city voters while the city youth overwhelmingly selected the Blue Party. Many Blue Party voters cited previous UDJ (Andinet Party) affiliation.
Among those Addis Ababa voters who voted for all the opposition (92.5%); nearly 38% identified themselves as Amhara ethnic groups, 21.5% mixed ethnic group, 17% as Oromo, 14.5% as Gurage and the rest were smaller ethnicities.
Some voters complained about the ballot box malfunction and many eyewitnessed opposition party election observers being harassed by the police. The majority voters during the exit poll said they have no confidence that their vote will be counted.
In Pictures/Videos: Review of the Historic Oromo Nationals’ Rallies for OFC/Medrek in Oromia (April/May 2015)
RE: Joint Appeal Letter of OYSA, OCO, OSA, HRLHA and OSG on Eviction of Oromo Farmers and Human Rights Abuses in Ethiopia
Dear Honorable Secretary,
We the undersigned associations, namely: the Oromo Youth Self-help Association (OYSA), the Oromo Community Organization (OCO) of Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, the Oromo Studies Association (OSA), the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), and the Oromia Support Group (OSG) are a diverse group of scholarly, community and human rights organizations focusing on Ethiopia, particularly Oromia, the Oromo regional state in Ethiopia. We are writing this joint appeal letter to you to express our deep concern about the widespread human rights violations that continue unabated in Ethiopia and to request that the U.S. Department of State, under your able leadership, uses its enormous influence with the government of Ethiopia to stop its arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, tortures and killings of innocent Oromos and other peoples of Ethiopia. The Oromo, who constitute more than forty percent of the population of Ethiopia, have been the target of attack by the minority Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) dominating the Ethiopian regime for over two decades.Pressure Ethiopia to Stop Killing and Evicting Oromo Farmers from their Ancestral LandsOn July 7, 2013 three innocent Oromo civilians namely: Mr. Ibrahim Henno (age 38), Mr. Mahammed Musa (age 26) and Mr. Mohammed Yusuf (age 27) were killed and two others – Mr. Nuredin Ismael (age 25) and Mr. Ali Mohammed (age 27) wounded in Eastern Oromia’s Regional State, in Ethiopia in a violence that involved the Federal Government’s special force known as Liyyu Police. According to the Human Rights League of Horn of Africa, the three dead victims of this most recent attack by Liyyu Police took place in Gaara-Wallo area in Qumbi District of Eastern Hararge Province in Eastern Ethiopia. The two wounded victims of this same violent action have since been treated at the Hiwot Fana Hospital in the city of Harar. More shocking was that the bodies of the three dead victims were eaten by hyenas, because there was nobody around to pick and bury them as the whole village had been abandoned when the Liyu Police forced the villagers to leave the area.The Ethiopian government-backed violence that has been going on in the name of border dispute around the Anniya, Jarso and Miyesso districts between the Oromia and Ogaden regional states has already resulted in the death of 40 Oromo nationals and the displacement of more than 20,000 others along with looting of their cattle and valuable possessions.In January 2013, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher, Claire Beston told the Guardian, “There have been repeated allegations against the Liyu police of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and other violations including destruction of villages and there is no doubt that the special police have become a significant source of fear in the region.” In a similar dispute last May, the Voice of America reported that at least five Oromos were killed in an inter-ethnic clash near the town of Dabus, Bidigilu county in the Benishangul Gumuz region. Manasibu county administrator in West Wollaga zone, Mr. Malkamu Tujuba, confirmed the death of civilians and destruction of properties to the VOA’s Afan Oromo program.
Oromo Political Refugees need UNHCR protection
Oromo Political refugees in Egypt who fled tyranny and subjugation in Ethiopia are facing another round of attack and human right abuse from Egyptians, who have been angry at the construction of the renaissance dam on the Nile River by Ethiopia. The UNHCR and Egyptian government couldn’t provide protection to these political refugees per the UN convention. Consequently, on July 6, 2013, one young Oromo was attacked by a knife as he and his friend were looking for dinner. His friend survived the knife attack by running away.
On May 22, 2013 nine Oromo/Ethiopian refugees were arrested in front of the UNHCR Office, Djibouti branch, where they had been for the renewal of their refugee identification cards. The families and friends of those refugees have not been able to see and/or communicate with them since they were arrested and detained. Based on related past experiences and the involvement of Ethiopian security agents in the arrest and detention of those refugees, there is a high level of fear that the government of Djibouti might deport the detained refugees back to Ethiopia exposing them to detention, torture and death. Similar human rights abuses have been reported on Oromo refugees in Yemen.
Pressure Ethiopia to Release Oromo Political Prisoners in Ethiopia
In May 2013 six Oromo civilians and artists were incarcerated by the TPLF security agents from their respective homes and work places. They are Tesfaye Lammuu, Addisu Mengistu/Karrayyu (Artist), Dasse Lamu, Birraa Margaa, Dhaba Abdulqadir, and Shasho Idosa.
On November 1, 2012, two well-respected Oromo opposition politicians, Mr. Bekele Gerba (professor) and Mr. Olbana Lelisa, along with seven other Oromo nationals, Welbeka Lemi, Adem Busa, Hawa Wako, Mohamed Melu, Dereje Ketema, Addisu Mikre and Gelgelo Gufa were convicted and later sentenced to long term imprisonment under the charge of “working underground to secede Oromia from the federal government” and other concocted charges after being kept in jail for more than a year. The two opposition leaders were arrested in August 2011 after speaking with Amnesty International officials.
Dear Honorable Secretary,
Over the past 21 years, the TPLF-led and dominated Ethiopian government, has imprisoned tens of thousands of political opposition and citizens, mainly Oromos. As the result of the government’s repressive policies, thousands of innocent citizens have been languishing in prisons and secret camps, and many have been severely tortured, deformed and/or killed. Others have been abducted and made to disappear. Hundreds have been murdered in broad day-light. Well respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and US State Department’s own annual reports have documented rampant arrests, unlawful killings, abductions, tortures and other human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government. These reports are consistent with our own reports and direct experiences. We are frustrated because, despite these glaring facts, Ethiopia’s allies and Western donors are reluctant to restrain the government and halt its flagrant human rights abuses. Some donors even go on record to support the government’s wrong claim that Ethiopia is “on the road to democracy.” It is troubling that despite these well documented human rights abuses, the Ethiopian government continues receiving billions of dollars of aid money every year. Using over one third of its budget from foreign aid, Ethiopia has built one of the biggest and best-equipped armies in Africa, while millions of its citizens seek food aid. In fact, the aid money is used to impose the Tigrayan dictatorship and autocratic regime on Oromos and other peoples in a multinational society.
Observing the painful agony and sufferings of the ordinary people and the political prisoners, we specifically request that you and the US government:
Use your influence and international responsibilities to force the Ethiopian Government to stop the killing of Oromo nationals, bring the violence to end and facilitate the return of the displaced Oromos back to their homes.
Use your influence and international responsibilities to force the minority regime in Ethiopia to stop the politically motivated eviction of Oromo farmers from their ancestral land and illegal selling of Oromo land immediately.
Use your enormous influence to put political, economic and diplomatic pressures upon the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Mr. Bekele Gerba, Mr. Olbana Lelisa and thousands of Oromo political prisoners.
Influence the Ethiopian government to respect the current Ethiopian constitution and stop the regime’s extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention of innocent people without trial.
Insist on the unconditional release of all political prisoners before providing economic aid to the regime.
Demand that the regime is committed to respecting human rights of the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia and allow freedom of expression and assembly.
Demand the repeal of all new laws that violate the fundamental freedom of citizens: particularly the so called Anti-terrorism Law, Press Law, the current law that prevents charitable organizations from freely moving in the country and the most recent law that criminalizes the usage of Skype and other media tools.
Demand that the regime respect freedom of religion and stop interfering in religious affairs.
Finally, we believe that unless international donors, mainly the US government, use their leverage and make meaningful pressure, the Ethiopian government will continue with political repression of the Oromo and other nations and nationalities. Therefore, we humbly request you to exert your energy and diplomatic skills to create conducive political environment for establishment of the rule of law in Ethiopia. We earnestly believe that as America’s top diplomat and principal voice on international issues, you have an extraordinary opportunity to alleviate the incredible human sufferings of the Oromo and other peoples in Ethiopia. We thank you for your interest in the wellbeing of the Oromo and other peoples of Ethiopia.