SMNE CALLS ON DONOR COUNTRIES TO CONDEMN THE RECENT CRACKDOWN ON ETHIOPIAN PEACEFUL PROTESTERS AND CLOSING OF ALL POLITICAL SPACE, FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY, FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, AND FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION IN ETHIOPIA
December 10, 2014. The SMNE condemns the recent crackdown on Ethiopian opposition leaders and protesters. An alliance of eight opposition parties planned a campaign of peaceful protest in response to the lack of political space in Ethiopia leading up to the May 2015 national election. The ruling one-party, ethnic-based TPLF/EPRDF clearly proved the underlying rationale for the protest—that there is zero tolerance for anyone other than themselves. This was a peaceful protest, allowed under Ethiopian Constitutional law; however, it was blocked at every point by the regime. It is now illegal to simply point out the need for electoral choices.
The Alliance tried to do it all by the book, making sure they were within their rights as per the law of the land, but they quickly found out that the TPLF/EPRDF was not even going to pretend they were going to hold a democratic election. The TPLF/EPRDF—seen as weakening at the same time as the opposition is gaining strength—may see it as far too dangerous a risk to take due to the rising level of discontent among Ethiopians in general. As a result, small and contained protests that may have been useful as propaganda tools in the past will no longer be allowed. Instead, as seen from the recent arrests of the organizers of the Freedom for Fair Election campaign, some arrests of which occurred prior to the protest, even planning for a peaceful protest is now considered as incitement to the overthrow of the government and an act of terrorism, punishable by beatings, arrests and serious charges.
According to inside information received, organizers attempted to hold several activities during the months of November and December, culminating with a 24-hour protest at Mesquel Square on December 6-7, following all the proper legal procedures; however, they were denied permission all along the way.
On December 5, as members attempted to promote the rally or as organizers were returning home or still working in their offices, some of them were arrested. On the same day, the ruling party announced to the public on national TV and radio programs that the protest was illegal and warned the public not to participate.
According to this report, leaders and members of the 8-party alliance decided to go forward anyway in a peaceful and legal manner. As the numbers of participants increased, the Federal Police began arresting the people. As some approached the police, who were blocking access to the roads, the police “started beating everyone viciously without any dialogue or warning.”
The report also states, “From a distance, it was very visible, some of the protesters fall on the ground, many were bending and crying out loud in pain. Namely, Yilkal Getnet, Abel Ephram, Brhanu T/Yared, some women, and several others.” Nearly 400 were arrested and removed by police pickup trucks and four buses to Addis Ababa Police (Sostegna), Lazarist and Cherkos Popolarai Police Station.
Thirty minutes after the arrests, a phone call was received from within the police station: “All we heard was shouting and moaning…some call names in fear, ‘Abel!’ ‘O God Abel’…we heard insults and reactions of whipping. It goes like that for about 5 minutes; then someone said, ‘give me the phone’ and the last thing we heard was a sound of a slap.”
Police had surrounded Semayawi headquarters for a week prior to the scheduled protest and “after the chaos… the office was still surrounded by spies and police; no one could go out or come in.” Many of those arrested are being held without any notice to family members of their whereabouts.
As many have feared, the Ethiopian government is increasing its repression of freedom in anticipation of the upcoming election. This should be worrisome to the donor countries that support Ethiopia. For the second year, the US House passed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill on December 9, 2015.[i] See the link for the 2015 Bill http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20141208/CPRT-113-HPRT-RU00-HR83sa.pdf. The bill puts pressure on Ethiopia for greater transparency and accountability in regards to human rights violations or forced evictions that could be linked to funds received.
One part of the 2014 law[ii] see the link for the 2014 Bill http://www.solidaritymovement.org/141026-SMNE-Applauds-Semayawi-Party.php applies in this particular case in that it links the receipt of aid to the Ethiopian government’s implementation of policies to: (i) protect judicial independence; freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion; the right of political opposition parties, civil society organizations, and journalists to operate without harassment or interference; and due process of law;
The TPLF/EPRDF will attempt to claim they were countering regional terrorism, an obviously absurd argument; however, the 2014 US Omnibus law requires some action in response. We also call on all donor countries to condemn what has happened and to re-examine their positions on continuing to provide support unless meaningful changes are implemented, including the release of all political prisoners, opening up political space, giving independence to the judicial system, holding perpetrators of human rights crimes accountable, and rescinding the Anti-terrorism Law and the Charities and Societies Proclamation law that has decimated civil society. These violations may require an independent investigation prior to the allocation of future funds.
From what we have heard, these peaceful protesters have been charged with baseless crimes, like 1) protesting without a license, 2) incitement to mobilize the public to overthrow the government, and 3) vandalizing property—despite lack of evidence to any of this. Some of the opposition leaders were arrested and eventually charged with these crimes before the protest ever began—that they never even had opportunity to commit. This is an example of a regime that is afraid of its own citizens.
We also call on human rights groups, the International Red Cross and others to assess the condition of those in detention who have been injured by security agents and document the details as to what has happened.
We call on all Ethiopians of all ethnic, religious, political, regional, and organizational backgrounds to stand together in unity for what is right, just and moral.
We call on citizens who have witnessed illegal acts or who have knowledge of crimes committed by security agents, federal police, government agents, or any other authorities to document it as best possible and to contact us, submit information online to http://www.masreja.com, who are doing an excellent job of compiling information on individuals, including members of the TPLF/EPRDF, who have committed crimes or corruption.
It is needed for documentation should there be future charges. This should also include government officials and judges who have been complicit in violating the rule of law because when this regime ends, these people will be held accountable. Along with pertinent details, those with information should also include names, dates, times, pictures, videos, locations, official titles, connections and other related information. Be on alert and document any who are committing these crimes.
We call on people to rise to the moral challenges of the times. Even if you have been part of the system or even if you have wrongly participated in some of these acts yourself; it is not too late to distance yourselves from a regime that pressures you to violate your conscience. It is too great a cost.
May God help Ethiopians to see how dishonoring and wrong this is to support a government that hurts its own citizens, especially those brave Ethiopians who are trying to call for justice, freedom, morality and the well being of all.
I am appealing to each of you to forward it to all your friends. If you do, you will not just be giving a voice to our beautiful people, but you would be doing justice to our humanity. Knowing the truth is overcoming the first obstacle to freedom!
Thanks so much for your never-ending support. Don’t give up. Keep your focus on the bigger picture and reach out to others and listen! Care about those who are suffering. Think about our family of Ethiopians and humanity throughout the world—they are YOU! There is no “us” or “them.” This is at the heart of the SMNE.
For more information, contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE. Email: Obang@solidaritymovement.org