By Adane Bikila
Addis Ababa — A state of emergency declared in Ethiopia is likely to exacerbate tensions and plunge the country into a greater crisis, rights groups warned.
Government has announced a six-month state of emergency after protestors destroyed public and private properties.
Over the past year, security forces have killed hundreds of protesters and detained tens of thousands in some regions beset by protests over government policies.
“Ethiopia’s state of emergency bans nearly all speech that the government disagrees with anywhere in the country for at least six months,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
He said the state of emergency hands the army new sweeping powers to crack down on demonstrators, limiting space for peaceful dissent.
The army can be deployed country-wide for at least six months.
The implementing directive prescribes draconian restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
The directive includes far-reaching restrictions on sharing information on social media, watching foreign television and closing businesses as a gesture of protest.
All protests without government permission are banned as there is permission to detain without court order.
Protests have swept through Oromia, the largest region, since November 2015, and the Amhara region since July 2016.
Security forces have killed more than 500 people and arrested 1 600 over the period.
Horne said the situation could worsen.
“Trying to use the legal cover of a state of emergency as a pretext for the widespread suspension of rights not only violates the government’s international legal obligations,” he warned.