Cyber Ethiopia

Dispatches: Using Courts to Crush Dissent in Ethiopia

by Felix Horne
Researcher Horn of Africa (Human Rights Watch)

For the past six months, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia, to protest alleged abuses by their government. The protests, unprecedented in recent years, have seen Ethiopia’s security forces use lethal force against largely peaceful protesters, killing hundreds and arresting tens of thousands more.

The government is inexorably closing off ways for Ethiopians to peacefully express their grievances, not just with bullets but also through the courts. In recent weeks, the Ethiopian authorities have lodged new, politically motivated charges against prominent opposition politicians and others, accusing them of crimes under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.

Just last week, Yonatan Tesfaye Regassa, the head of public relations for the opposition Semayawi Party (the Blue Party), was charged with “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of a terrorist act. The authorities citied Yonatan’s Facebook posts about the protests as evidence; he faces 15 years to life in prison, if convicted.

In April, Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Oromia’s largest registered political party, and 21 others, including many senior OFC members, were charged under the counterterrorism law, four months after their arrest on December 23, 2015. Bekele is accused of having links with the banned Oromo Liberation Front, a charge frequently used by the government to target ethnic Oromo dissidents and others. Deeply committed to nonviolence, Bekele has consistently urged the OFC to participate in elections despite the ruling party’s iron grip on the polls. Bekele and the others have described horrible conditions during their detention, including at the notorious Maekalawi prison, where torture and other ill-treatment are routine.

The authorities also charged 20 university students under the criminal code for protesting in front of the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa in March, 2016. The “evidence” against them included a video of their protest and a list of demands, which included the immediate release of opposition leaders and others arrested for peaceful protests, and the establishment of an independent body to investigate and prosecute those who killed and injured peaceful protesters. They face three years in prison if convicted.

The Ethiopian government is sending a clear message when it charges peaceful protesters and opposition politicians like Bekele Gerba with terrorism. The message is that no dissent is tolerated, whether through social media, the electoral system, or peaceful assembly.

Source: HRW

Short URL: http://cyberethiopia.com/2013/?p=1342

Posted by on May 13 2016. Filed under News, Views and Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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The then-TPLF-dominated regime in Ethiopia was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political censorship of the Internet .

Since May 2006, the most popular Ethiopian web sites (including CyberEthiopia) and several blogs have been blocked across the nation. The apparent objective was to prevent the dissemination of information that is critical of the regime.

Following the political protests which have swept the nation since November 2015, the regime has routinely shutdown the Internet and restricted access to Social Media (including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber) and indicated its keenness to control Social Media.

On 22nd June 2018, the new Prime Minister Dr Abye Ahmed's government reported that it had unblocked 264 websites including CyberEthiopia.com after 12 years of blockage as attested by the OONI’s thorough verifications of our website’s unblocking .




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