Annual Report: Ethiopia 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Ethiopia 2010

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  • Former judge and Unity for Democracy and Justice Party leader Birtukan Mideksa remained in detention, serving a life sentence, since she was re-arrested in December 2008. Following international calls to improve her prison conditions, government officials moved her out of solitary confinement and she was later detained with other women prisoners. She received regular family visits but her lawyer reportedly had only intermittent access to her.
  • Twenty-six former military officers and others affiliated with the Ginbot 7 political party, led by Berhanu Negga, were convicted on several charges related to planning an attack on the government early in the year. Those detained for many months in this case included Ginbot 7 party leader Andargachew Tsige's father, 80-year-old Tsige Habtemariam, believed to be in very poor health. Eighteen of the defendants were reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated upon their arrest by Ethiopian security forces in May.
  • Prisoner of conscience Sultan Fowsi Mohamed Ali, an independent mediator, remained in prison. He was arrested in Jijiga in September 2007, reportedly to prevent him from giving evidence to a UN fact-finding mission in the Somali Region.
  • Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to life imprisonment on 3 August. He had been convicted on 27 July on four terror-related charges, including being a member of the ONLF. The government denied allegations that his trial was unfair. Bashir Makhtal consistently denied all charges. On 4 December, the Supreme Court heard his appeal, but upheld the conviction and sentence. His brother, Hassan Makhtal, was released from prison in October and died in November, reportedly from complications due to ill-treatment in detention

Freedom of expression

The authorities introduced various laws which negatively affected freedom of expression. Media workers were harassed by the authorities.

Charities and Societies Proclamation

In January, Parliament passed the Charities and Societies Proclamation, imposing strict controls and restrictions on civil society organizations whose work included human rights. If this law is enforced, international organizations would also be restricted from working on a range of human rights and democracy issues in Ethiopia without special permission. Similarly, local groups would be barred from human rights activities if they receive more than 10 per cent of their income from foreign sources, despite the fact that most depend heavily on support from outside Ethiopia. Even minor breaches of the law's provisions could invite severe criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment. The Proclamation established a Charities and Societies Agency with broad discretionary power, including surveillance and interference in the management and operations of local organizations. The new law, expected to be implemented in early January 2010, puts at serious risk the ability of local and international organizations to monitor, report and advocate against human rights violations in Ethiopia. Some human rights groups scaled back their operations in the interim. Reregistration of local organizations under the new law began in October.

Anti-Terrorism Proclamation

In July, parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which restricted freedom of expression, and may restrict peaceful assembly and the right to a fair trial – with serious implications in the run-up to Ethiopia's 2010 parliamentary elections. According to the Proclamation, "acts of terrorism" include damage to property and disruption of public services, for which an individual could be sentenced to 15 years in prison or even the death penalty. The Proclamation's definition of "acts of terrorism" is vague and could encompass legitimate expressions of dissent.