Press Release | 1 April 2016
The Association of Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) expresses deep concern over the Ethiopian Government’s continued misuse of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to muzzle independent media, civil society and peaceful protesters. AHRE calls on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders and journalists arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental democratic rights.
Since 2011, dozens of journalists and human rights defenders have been subject to harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and unjustifiably labelled as ‘terrorists’ solely for conducting their legitimate work. The law, which allows for up to four months of pre-trial detention, has precipitated a wave of judicial harassment, making Ethiopia one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world.
“Independent institutional avenues to address social, political or economic grievances are nearly non-existent in Ethiopia” said Yared Hailemariam, Director of AHRE. “The Government’s unrelenting campaign to silence critical voices under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is indicative of its refusal to seriously engage on a wide range of destabilizing human rights concerns”.
The government’s violent crackdown on protests in the Oromia region against the expansion of the Ethiopian capital and attendant disposition of agricultural lands without adequate compensation represents a worrying escalation of the unabated restrictions on freedom of assembly and civil society in the country. Since the start of the protests in November 2015, over 200 people, including scores of children, have been killed while participating in the protests. Thousands of others have reported being subject to unlawful and warranted arrest and detention.
A number of independent experts and intergovernmental bodies including the European Parliament and a group of UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed grave concern over the excessive use of force during the protests and urged the Ethiopian authorities to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
“Despite the growing condemnation from the international community, the Ethiopian government has continued to systematically persecute individuals who are critical of government policy,” said Mr Hailemariam. “The international community must take stronger and concerted measures to address the deepening crackdown in the country.”
Among others, bloggers Zelalem Workagegnehu, Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, as well as journalists Getachew Shferawu and Fikadu Mirkana, are still being held behind bars without substantiated evidence under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru, were arrested by the Ethiopian authorities on 8 July 2014 in their hometown Addis Ababa. Zelalem covered Ethiopian politics and geopolitical issues in the Horn of Africa for the news website De Birhan as well as being a graduate student at Addis Abeba University. The arrest occurred shortly after Zelalem and his two colleagues Yonatan and Bahiru, both university graduates, applied to attend a digital security training carried out by international human rights organizations. The authorities charged the three men under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for having links with the diaspora-based Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7 and for preparing to attend digital security training as well as for engaging in online activism. In August 2015, the Federal First Instance Court of Ethiopia dropped most of the charges held against the bloggers except for two, receiving money from foreign sources to recruit members for Ginbot 7 and facilitating a digital security course. According to their relatives, Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru were severely tortured in the infamous Maekelawi Prison during the pre-trial investigation period.
In December 2015, security forces arrested journalists Fikadu Mirkana and Getachew Sheraw in Addis Ababa in the aftermath of the Oromia protests. Following their arrest, the Federal First Instance Court has granted the police, for the 5th time, 28 days for interrogation, as permitted under the Anti-terrorism Proclamation. Both men were allowed for family visit after three months of their arrest. However, they have not yet access to legal services. According to AHRE’s trial observers, Getachew has made several appeals to improve the harsh prison conditions and ill-treatment suffered while in detention.
AHRE urges the Ethiopia Government to create an enabling environment for civil society in line with its national and international human rights obligation including by releasing all arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, journalists and protestors.
For more information please contact:
Yared Hailemariam, firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +32486336367
Press Release | 1 April 2016