(Human Rights Watch)―Ethiopia’s newly proclaimed state of emergency risks further closing the space for peaceful political activity, Human Rights Watch said today (Feb. 24). The action dashed hopes that the release of key political prisoners days earlier was a first step toward more widespread political reforms. The government should promptly repeal or revise restrictions that violate the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression protected under international human rights law.
On February 17, 2018, following Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation, Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa announced a countrywide six-month state of emergency. The Directive of the State of Emergency contains overly broad restrictions and vague language that will facilitate government abuses, Human Rights Watch said. During Ethiopia’s previous countrywide state of emergency, from October 2016 until August 2017, security forces arrested more than 20,000 people and committed widespread rights violations.
“Ethiopia’s new state of emergency threatens to block the peaceful expression of views on critical issues facing the country,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Banning public protest and handing the army sweeping new powers to crack down on demonstrators, media and political parties violates rights and crushes the potential for meaningful dialogue on the way forward.”
The directive bans all protests without permission of the Command Post, a body led by the prime minister to manage the state of emergency. A blanket ban on protests is an overly broad restriction on the right to peaceful assembly, including during a state of emergency. If any criminal acts are committed during a protest, the authorities can prosecute them under Ethiopian law.
The directive also broadly forbids disseminating any information deemed critical of the state of emergency. The Command Post is empowered to “close any media to safeguard the constitution,” the government’s news agency said. And regional government media outlets are prohibited from commenting on the state of emergency without Command Post permission. These measures pose a serious threat to Ethiopia’s media and expanding social media community, and place at risk Ethiopians who benefit from the media in the Ethiopian diaspora.
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