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Foreign Policy In Focus: Deafening Silence from Ethiopia:The Ethiopian government is cracking down on journalists and NGOs. Where’s the outrage from the international community? April 13, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests, Africa.
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Odaa Oromoohrwlogo#OromoProtests at Awaro Campus, Ambo, Oromia, 11 and April 2016 p2#OromoProtests in Limmuu Saqaa, Jimmaa, Oromia, 7 April 2016 p1#OromoProtests against the Ethiopian regime fascist tyranny. Join the peaceful movement for justice, democracy, development and freedom of Oromo and other oppressed people in Ethiopia

Deafening Silence from Ethiopia

Since November, state security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and arrested thousands in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region. It’s the biggest political crisis to hit the country since the 2005 election but has barely registered internationally. And with the protests now in their fifth month, there is an almost complete information blackout.

A teacher arrested in December told me, “In Oromia the world doesn’t know what happens for months, years or ever. No one ever comes to speak to us, and we don’t know where to find those who will listen to our stories.”

Part of the problem is the government’s draconian restrictions on news reporting, human rights monitoring, and access to information imposed over the past decade. But restrictions have worsened in the last month. Some social media sites have been blocked, and in early March security officials detained two international journalists overnight while they were trying to report on the protests. As one foreign diplomat told me, “It’s like a black hole, we have no idea what is happening. We get very little credible information.”

With difficulty, Human Rights Watch interviewed nearly 100 protesters. They described security forces firing randomly into crowds, children as young as nine being arrested, and Oromo students being tortured in detention. But the Ethiopian media aren’t telling these stories. It’s not their fault. Ethiopian journalists have to choose between self-censorship, prison, or exile. Ethiopia is one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent. In 2014 at least 30 journalists fled the country and six independent publications closed down. The government intimidates and harasses printers, distributors, and sources.

International journalists also face challenges. Some do not even try to go because of the personal risks for them, their translators, and their sources. And when they do go, many Ethiopians fear speaking out against government policies—there are plenty of cases of people being arrested after being interviewed.

Diaspora-run television stations have helped fill the gap, including the U.S.-based Oromia Media Network (OMN). Many students in Oromia told me that OMN was one way they were able to learn what was happening in other parts of the region during the protests. But since OMN began broadcasting in March 2014 it has been jammed 15 times for varying periods. Radio broadcasts are also jammed–as international broadcasters like Voice of America and Deutsche Welle have experienced intermittently for years.

In December OMN began transmitting on a satellite that is virtually impenetrable to jamming. But security forces then began destroying private satellite dishes on people’s homes. Eventually the government applied pressure on the satellite company to drop OMN, which has now been off the air for over two months.

Social media has partially helped fill the information gap. Photos of injured students and videos of protests have been posted to Facebook, particularly in the early days of the protests. But in some locations the authorities have targeted people who filmed the protests on their phones. At various times in the last month, there have been reports of social media and file-sharing sites being blocked in Oromia, including Facebook, Twitter, and Dropbox. Website-blocking has been documented before – in 2013, at least 37 websites with information from Ethiopia were blocked. Most of the sites were operated by Ethiopians in the diaspora.

Independent non-governmental organizations that might be reporting what is happening face similar restrictions. The government’s Charities and Societies Proclamation of 2009 virtually gutted domestic nongovernmental organizations that work on human rights issues. The independent Human Rights Council released a report on the protests in March. It was a breath of fresh air, but the council released it at great risk. As the first report from Ethiopian civil society on an issue of great political significance, it was a damning indictment of the limits of freedom of expression in Africa’s second-largest country, with a population of 100 million.

The government may believe that by strangling the flow of information coming out of Oromia it can limit international concern and pressure. And so far the response from countries that support Ethiopia’s development has been muted. The deaths of hundreds, including many children, have largely escaped condemnation.

Yet the government’s brutally repressive tactics cannot be contained behind Ethiopia’s information firewall for long. The sooner the government recognizes this and acts to stop the mass arrests and excessive use of force, the better the outlook for the government and the affected communities.

The government—with the assistance of its allies and partners—needs to support an independent investigation of the events in Oromia, commit to accountability and justice for the victims, and start dismantling the legislative and security apparatus that has made Ethiopia one of the most hostile places for free expression on the continent. What’s happening in Oromia has long-term implications for Ethiopia’s stability and economic progress, and Ethiopians and the world need to know what is happening.

Felix Horne is the Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch.


Deafening Silence from Ethiopia


Foreign Policy In Focus: Ethiopia’s Invisible Crisis. #OromoProtests January 23, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Ethnic Cleansing, Oromia, Oromo.
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Odaa Oromoooromoprotests-tweet-and-share1Say no to the master killer. Addis Ababa master plan is genocidal plan against Oromo peopleAgazi security forces beating Oromo women, children)

Ethiopia’s Invisible Crisis


Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn confers with President Barack Obama

“Badessa” was a third-year engineering student in western Ethiopia in April 2014 when he and most of his classmates joined a protest over the potential displacement of ethnic Oromo farmers like his family because of the government’s plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into the farmland.

The night of the first protests he was arrested and taken to an unmarked detention center. Each night he heard his fellow students screaming in agony as one by one they were tortured by interrogators. “I still hear the screams,” he told me later. Eventually his turn came to be interrogated. “What kind of country is it when I voice concern that my family could lose their farm for a government project and I am arrested, tortured, and now living as a refugee?”

Since mid-November, large-scale protests have again swept through Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, and the response from security forces has again been brutal. They have killed countless students and farmers, and arrested opposition politicians and countless others. On January 12, the government announced it was cancelling the master plan, but that hasn’t stopped the protests and the resultant crackdown.

Although the protest was initially about the potential for displacement, it has become about so much more. Despite being the biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia, Oromos have often felt marginalized by successive governments and feel unable to voice concerns over government policy. Oromos who express dissent are often arrested and tortured or otherwise mistreated in detention, accused of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group that has long been mostly inactive and that the government designated a terrorist organization.

The government is doing all it can to make sure that the news of these protests doesn’t circulate within the country or reach the rest of the world. Ethiopia’s allies, including governments in the region and the African Union, have largely stood by as Ethiopia has steadily strangled the ability of ordinary Ethiopians to access information and peacefully express their views, whether in print or in public demonstrations. But they should be worried about what is happening in Oromia right now, as Ethiopia — Africa’s second most-populous country and a key security ally of the US — grapples with this escalating crisis.

This may prove to be the biggest political event to hit Ethiopia since the controversial 2005 elections resulted in a crackdown on protesters in which security forces killed almost 200 people and arrested tens of thousands .

Although the government focuses its efforts on economic development and on promoting a narrative of economic success, for many farmers in Oromia and elsewhere economic development comes at a devastating cost. As one Oromo student told me “All we hear about is development. The new foreign-owned farms and roads is what the world knows, but that just benefits the government. For us [Oromos] it means we lose our land and then we can’t sustain ourselves anymore.”

It has become almost impossible for journalists and human rights monitors to get information about what is happening, especially in smaller towns and rural areas outside Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia is one of the most restrictive environments for independent investigation, reporting, and access to information, earning the country a top-10 spot in the global ranking of jailers of journalists. For the past decade, the government has limited access to information by regularly threatening, imprisoning, and prosecuting individual activists, bloggers, and journalists and sending a clear public message that the media must self-censor and that dissent or criticism of government policy will not be tolerated.

Independent media have dwindled—more than 70 journalists have fled the country since 2010 and five of the last independent publications closed down before the May elections. Meanwhile the state-run media parrot the government line, in this case claiming that the Oromo protesters are linked to “terrorist groups” and “anti-peace elements” who are “aiming to create havoc and chaos.”

Very few international journalists are based in Ethiopia. Those who have attempted to cover events on the ground since the protests began have braved threats and arrest, but these are a few lone voices.

Given restrictions on local and international media, you might think that ordinary citizens, local activists, and nongovernmental organizations would fill the gaps and document the events in Oromia. But Ethiopia’s human rights activists and independent groups have been crushed by draconian legislation and threats, and even ordinary people are often terrified to speak out. People who dare to speak to international media outlets or independent groups have been arrested. The government taps phone lines and uses European-made spyware to target journalists and opposition members outside the country.

Since the protests began, the restrictions have become even harsher. Authorities have arrested people, including health workers, for posting photos and videos or messages of support on social media. The state-run telecom network has also been cut in some areas, making it much more difficult to get information out from hotspots.

Radio and satellite television outlets based outside Ethiopia, including some diaspora stations, play a key role disseminating information about the protests within Oromia, as they also did in 2014 during the last round of protests. Last year numerous people were arrested in Oromia during the protests merely for watching the diaspora-run Oromia Media Network (OMN).

The government has frequently jammed foreign stations in the past, violating international regulations in the process. When the government is unable to jam it puts pressure on the satellite companies themselves. Throughout the protests government agents have reportedly been destroying satellite dishes.

Yet despite the clear efforts to muzzle voices, information is coming out. Some protesters are losing their fear of expressing dissent and are speaking openly about the challenges they are facing. Social media plays a key role in disseminating information as people share photos and videos of rallies, of bloodied protesters, and of expressions of peaceful resistance in the face of security forces using excessive force.

In the coming days and weeks Ethiopia’s friends and partners should condemn the use of excessive force by security forces that is causing tragic and unnecessary deaths. But they should also be clear that Ethiopia needs to ensure access to information and stop disrupting telecommunications and targeting social media users. The world needs to know what is happening in Oromia—and Ethiopians have a right to know what is happening in their country.

Felix Horne is the Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch.