The run-up to Ethiopia’s elections on Sunday has been marred by gross, systematic and wide-spread violations of ordinary Ethiopians’ human rights, says Amnesty International.
“The lead-up up to the elections has seen an onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. This onslaught undermines the right to participation in public affairs freely and without fear as the government has clamped down on all forms of legitimate dissent,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Ethiopian authorities have jailed large numbers of members of legally registered opposition political parties, journalists, bloggers and protesters. They have also used a combination of harassment and repressive legislation to repress independent media and civil society.
In the run-up to Sunday’s elections, opposition political party members report increased restrictions on their activities. The Semayawi (Blue) Party informed Amnesty International that more than half of their candidates had their registration cancelled by the National Electoral Board. Out of 400 candidates registered for the House of Peoples Representatives, only 139 will be able to stand in the elections.
On 19 May, Bekele Gerba and other members of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)-Medrek were campaigning in Oromia Region when police and local security officers beat, arrested and detained them for a couple of hours.
On 12 May, security officers arrested two campaigners and three supporters of the Blue Party who were putting up campaign posters in the capital Addis Ababa. They were released on bail after four days in detention.
In March, three armed security officers in Tigray Region severely beat Koshi Hiluf Kahisay, a member of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (EFDUD) Arena-Medrek. Koshi Hiluf Kahisay had previously received several verbal warnings from security officials to leave the party or face the consequences.
In January, the police violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Addis Ababa during an event organized by the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ). Police beat demonstrators with batons, sticks and iron rods on the head, face, hands and legs, seriously injuring more than 20 of them.
At least 17 journalists, including Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu and Wubishet Taye, have been arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), and sentenced to between three and 18 years in prison. Many journalists have fled to neighboring countries because they are afraid of intimidation, harassment and attracting politically motivated criminal charges.
Civil society’s ability to participate in election observation has been restricted under the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) to only Ethiopian mass based organizations aligned with the ruling political party.
Amnesty International calls on the Africa Union Election Observation Mission (AU EOM) currently in Ethiopia to assess and speak to the broader human rights context around the elections in both their public and private reporting. It also calls on the AU EOM to provide concrete recommendations to address the gross, systematic and widespread nature of violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly which have undermined the right to participate in public affairs freely and without fear.
“The African Union’s election observers have a responsibility to pay attention to human rights violations specific to the elections as well as more broadly,” said Wanyeki. “The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the right of Ethiopians to freely participate in their government. This right has been seriously undermined by violations of other civil and political rights in the lead-up to the elections.”
Amnesty International has been monitoring, documenting and reporting on the human rights situation in Ethiopia for more than four decades.
Since the country’s last elections in 2010, the organization has documented arbitrary and politically motivated arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as gross, systematic and wide-spread violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association.