Annual Report: Ethiopia 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Ethiopia 2013

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  • In April, Temesgen Desalegn, the editor of Feteh, one of the last remaining independent publications, was fined for contempt of court for “biased coverage” of the trial of Eskinder Nega and others. Feteh had published statements from some of the defendants. In August, he was charged with criminal offences for articles he had written or published that were deemed critical of the government, or that called for peaceful protests against government repression. He was released after a few days’ detention and the charges were dropped.

In May, the authorities issued a directive requiring printing houses to remove any content which could be defined as “illegal” by the government from any publications they printed. The unduly broad provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation meant that much legitimate content could be deemed illegal.

  • In July, an edition of Feteh was impounded after state authorities objected to one cover story on the Muslim protests and another speculating about the Prime Minister’s health. Subsequently, state-run printer Berhanena Selam refused to print Feteh or Finote Netsanet, the publication of the largest opposition party, Unity for Democracy and Justice. In November, the party announced that the government had imposed a total ban on Finote Netsanet.

A large number of news, politics and human rights websites were blocked.

In July, Parliament passed the Telecom Fraud Offences Proclamation, which obstructs the provision and use of various internet and telecommunications technologies.

Human rights defenders

The Charities and Societies Proclamation, along with related directives, continued to significantly restrict the work of human rights defenders, particularly by denying them access to essential funding.

  • In October, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to freeze around US$1 million in assets of the country’s two leading human rights organizations: the Human Rights Council and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. The accounts had been frozen in 2009 after the law was passed.
  • In August, the Human Rights Council, the country’s oldest human rights NGO, was denied permission for proposed national fundraising activities by the government’s Charities and Societies Agency.

It was reported that the Agency began enforcing a provision in the law requiring NGO work to be overseen by a relevant government body, severely compromising the independence of NGOs.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners were widespread, particularly during interrogation in pre-trial police detention. Typically, prisoners might be punched, slapped, beaten with sticks and other objects, handcuffed and suspended from the wall or ceiling, denied sleep and left in solitary confinement for long periods. Electrocution, mock-drowning and hanging weights from genitalia were reported in some cases. Many prisoners were forced to sign confessions. Prisoners were used to mete out physical punishment against other prisoners.

Allegations of torture made by detainees, including in court, were not investigated.

Prison conditions were harsh. Food and water were scarce and sanitation was very poor. Medical treatment was inadequate, and was sometimes withheld from prisoners. Deaths in detention were reported.

  • In February, jailed opposition leader, Andualem Arage, was severely beaten by a fellow prisoner who had been moved into his cell a few days earlier. Later in the year, another opposition leader, Olbana Lelisa was reportedly subjected to the same treatment.
  • In September, two Swedish journalists, sentenced in 2011 to 11 years’ imprisonment on terrorism charges, were pardoned. After their release, the two men reported that they were forced to incriminate themselves and had been subjected to mock execution before they were allowed access to their embassy or a lawyer.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The authorities arrested members of political opposition parties, and other perceived or actual political opponents. Arbitrary detention was widespread.