Rights groups decry Ethiopia press clampdown ahead of elections

AFP | 23 May, 2015

Rights groups said elections on Sunday in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, would not be free or fair due to a clampdown on freedom of speech.

Haile-mariam-338x234Ethiopia on Sunday holds its first general election since the death of long-time strongman Meles Zenawi whose successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, is almost certain to stay in office.
Over 36.8 million Ethiopians have registered to vote in what is seen by the international community as a key test of the state’s commitment to bringing greater democracy to the Horn of Africa nation.
Rights groups routinely accuse Ethiopia of clamping down on opposition supporters and journalists and using anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.
“Citizens are expected to choose the right party to lead them for the next five years. To do so, they need to have a clear understanding of their country’s political, social, and economic situation,” the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists said, with ranks Ethiopia as the “fourth most censored country” in the world.
“But in a country with limited independent media, many Ethiopians struggle to find the information needed to help them make informed decisions.”
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been in power for over two decades and is confident of a win, but insists the result will be decided on its economic record alone.
Ethiopia is now one of Africa’s top performing economies and a magnet for foreign investment. The EPRDF won 545 of the 547 seats in parliament during the last elections in 2010.
This time, the only opposition MP has chosen not to run again, while polls in the constituency of the one independent MP seeking reelection were postponed Friday, after he complained there had not been “enough time and space” for campaigning.
“The lead-up to the elections has seen an onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“This onslaught undermines the right to participation in public affairs freely and without fear as the government has clamped down on all forms of legitimate dissent.”
The government routinely dismisses such critics, and government spokesman Redwan Hussein told AFP that voters would choose the representatives based on their performance.
“If they want to give us another chance they will vote for us,” he said. “If they have a grudge, they will not give their vote to EPRDF.”

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