A single party (Front), known as the TPLF has been fully in control of the country since 1991 after seizing power by violent means. In the last 26 years of its repressive rule, the TPLF regime has never been willing to create a conducive atmosphere for fruitful engagement and a genuine political dialogue with all stakeholders in the country. This blog is mainly focused on raising awareness, driving change and creating impact for the realization of a genuine multiparty democracy in Ethiopia.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Using Courts to Crush Dissent in Ethiopia
By Felix Horne, HRW
May 10, 2016
For the past six months, thousands of people have taken to the streets
in Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia, to protest alleged abuses by their
government. The protests, unprecedented in recent years, have seen Ethiopia’s
security forces use lethal force against largely peaceful protesters, killing
hundreds and arresting tens of thousands more.
The government is inexorably closing off ways for Ethiopians to
peacefully express their grievances, not just with bullets but also through the
courts. In recent weeks, the Ethiopian authorities have lodged new, politically
motivated charges against prominent opposition politicians and others, accusing
them of crimes under Ethiopia’s draconian counterterrorism law.
Just last week, Yonatan Tesfaye Regassa, the head of public relations
for the opposition Semayawi Party (the Blue Party), was charged with “planning,
preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of a terrorist act. The
authorities citied Yonatan’s Facebook posts about the protests as evidence; he
faces 15 years to life in prison, if convicted.
In April, Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist
Congress (OFC), Oromia’s largest registered political party, and 21 others,
including many senior OFC members, were charged under the counterterrorism law,
four months after their arrest on December 23, 2015. Bekele is accused of
having links with the banned Oromo Liberation Front, a charge frequently used
by the government to target ethnic Oromo dissidents and others. Deeply
committed to nonviolence, Bekele has consistently urged the OFC to participate
in elections despite the ruling party’s iron grip on the polls. Bekele and the
others have described horrible conditions during their detention, including at
the notorious Maekalawi prison, where torture and other ill-treatment are
The authorities also charged 20 university students under the criminal
code for protesting in front of the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa in
March, 2016. The “evidence” against them included a video of their protest and
a list of demands, which included the immediate release of opposition leaders
and others arrested for peaceful protests, and the establishment of an
independent body to investigate and prosecute those who killed and injured
peaceful protesters. They face three years in prison if convicted.
The Ethiopian government is sending a clear message when it charges
peaceful protesters and opposition politicians like Bekele Gerba with
terrorism. The message is that no dissent is tolerated, whether through social
media, the electoral system, or peaceful assembly.