William Davison, October 19, 2016 —
Restrictions introduced by the Ethiopian government to curb unrest in the Oromia and Amhara regions will only deepen turmoil that’s claimed more than 800 lives since protests began at the end of 2015, Amnesty International said.
“These emergency measures are extremely severe and so broad that they threaten basic human rights that must not be curtailed even under a state of emergency,” Regional Director Muthoni Wanyeki said in a statement e-mailed Tuesday. “These grievances must be properly addressed by the authorities. Further crackdowns and human-rights violations will only make the situation worse.”
The restrictions are unlikely to solve the political crisis, the U.S. Embassy in the country said.
The set of directives under the six-month state of emergency declared on Oct. 9 include authorizing arrests without warrants, as well as “rehabilitation measures,” Wanyeki said. Instead, all protesters, opposition leaders and supporters, journalists and bloggers arrested in recent months should be released, she said.
Protests began in Ethiopia in November when Oromo people, the nation’s largest ethnic group, alleged unfair expropriation of farms, state repression, economic and political marginalization of the community. There have also been anti-government demonstrations in which people were killed by security forces in Amhara, the second-most populous region. Combined, they present a major challenge for the ruling coalition that’s controlled Africa’s second-most populous nation for 25 years.
About 1,000 people were arrested in Sebeta town near Addis Ababa, the capital, on suspicion of involvement in protests that included damage to factories and flower farms this month, the ruling party-linked Walta Information Center said Tuesday. Detainees can be held for the duration of the emergency period and then either sent to trial or be set free after undergoing rehabilitation programs, according to the directive.
The emergency measures enable the authorities to detain suspects without trial and have criminalized expressions of support for demonstrations. Ethiopians can be punished for watching opposition satellite channels, diplomats need permission to travel, and it’s prohibited to make contact with foreign governments or charities in a manner that undermine “national sovereignty and security,” according to a translation published on the U.S. Embassy’s website.
“The measures appear to give sweeping authority to security forces to detain individuals without warrant or trial for exercising their human rights including freedom of expression and assembly,” the embassy said in an e-mailed response to questions. “We encourage the government to focus on addressing the legitimate concerns of its citizens rather than further restricting their ability to raise those concerns.”
Government spokesman Getachew Reda wasn’t immediately available for comment on Wednesday.