This is a moment of significance in the country. There is an unstoppable force for justice and freedom sweeping across the world and Ethiopia is firmly within that current of change.

By Graham Peebles (Redress Information & Analysis)

Since November 2015 unprecedented protests have been taking place in Ethiopia. Angry and frustrated at the widespread abuse of human rights and the centralization of power in the hands of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), tens of thousands have taken to the streets. The ruling party’s response to this democratic outpouring has been consistently violent. Hundreds have been killed and beaten by security forces, tens of thousands arrested and imprisoned.

In an attempt to gag the people, a highly repressive state of emergency was imposed in August 2016. It failed, the protests continued, the movement strengthened. The regime then tried to inflame ancient ethnic differences among various groups by staging attacks using plain clothed security personnel. In the border region of Oromo and the Ogaden, Tesfaye Robela of the Ethiopian parliament claims that over 10,000 people have been killed. ESAT News (the sole independent Ethiopian broadcaster, based in Europe and the US) quotes the findings of a parliamentary report into the ethnic clashes, which concluded that “based on interviews with victims of the violence, squarely puts the blame on Somali Region Special Police, local police and militia for perpetrating the killings”. The Liyu police is controlled by the Ethiopian military.

Seizing the moment

Despite these attempts to extinguish the movement for change, the people of Ethiopia are continuing to demand freedom, justice and democracy; this time they will not be silenced. The minority powers within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition – the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) – have been empowered by the popular uprising and there are signs that they are at last standing up to the majority TPLF members. Under pressure from the OPDO and ANDM, and in a further attempt to distract attention from the protests and undermine the protesters’ claims, on 3 January the government put out a convoluted statement relating to political prisoners.

The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said the regime would release “some political prisoners”, prisoners that for the last 27 years they have denied even existed.

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