Thursday, April 06, 2006

Updates on the Ethiopian human rights situation

Over the past year, Ethiopia has experienced political repression. In the aftermath of elections in 2005, the Ethiopian government has arrested thousands of opposition supporters and human rights defenders.

Amnesty International has expressed dismay over the killing of approximately 80 unarmed Ethiopian citizens in the streets of Addis Ababa in June and November, 2005. Moreover, Amnesty is concerned about the arrest and detention of thousands of suspected government opponents protesting alleged election fraud since demonstrations in November in Addis and other towns. In addition, more than 100 opposition leaders, including elected parliamentarians, journalists and human rights defenders have been arrested and are now facing trial on charges of “high treason,” “inciting and organizing armed uprising,” and “genocide.” Amnesty International considers these individuals to be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for their nonviolent opinions and activities, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release. We also call upon the Government of Ethiopia to halt the criminalization of freedom of expression, and to accept all legitimate political and human rights activities.

Recently, a few detainees have been released. Several US-based Ethiopian Voice of America journalists had their charges dropped. But more than one hundred are still being held and their treason trial is slated to begin in May.

Web resources on Ethiopia
Compared to the widespread attention to the human rights crisis in Darfur, Ethiopia's human rights situation has received little press coverage or attention from major human rights organizations besides Amnesty.

Human Rights Watch has issued two recent press releases on Ethiopia. The International Federation for Human Rights (Paris) and World Organization against Torture (Geneva) conducted a fact-finding mission in April 2005 and issued this report in PDF format. The US State Department recently issued its report on the human rights situation in Ethiopia during 2005.

A French diplomat's wife who was posted in Ethiopia has kept a blog, Addis Ferengi, detailing the political repression in the country. Recently, she was "outed" and left the country, but she continues to blog from Europe. Addis Ferengi (ferengi means foreigner in Amharic) has been a major source of information for Ethiopians on what is happening in their country.

Other blogs critical of the Ethiopian government include Ethiopia Watch and Ethiopundit. Ethiopian expatriates have a web presence through sites such as the Ethiopian Review,Ethiomedia and EthioIndex.

For all Amnesty's press releases, reports and urgent actions on Ethiopia, see the Amnesty International web site's library.

Amnesty USA has just issued an action to send letters of hope to Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Ethiopia’s most prominent human rights defender. The 75-year-old founder and former chairman of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council has been detained since early November 2005. His daughter, Meqdes, will speak at the Get on the Bus speakers' panel.

Two political prisoners who'd been in prison for several years were released recently. Here are summaries of their stories.

Lubaba Said

On 3 April 2002 Lubaba Said, the former editor-in-chief of the Tarik newspaper, was sentenced to one year in jail for reportedly “fabricating news that could have a negative psychological effect on members of the armed forces and disturb the minds of people”.
Lubaba Said was released on January 8, 2003, 3 months before the end of her sentence. Amnesty International considered Lubaba Said to be a prisoner of conscience detained on account of the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression.

Tewodros Kassa
On 10 July 2002 Tewodros Kassa, the former editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Ethiop, was sentenced to two years in prison. He was charged under subsection (c) of the Press Law and with defamation. This is the second time Tewodros Kassa has been charged under subsection (c) of the Press law. In June 2000 he was sentenced to one year in jail for reportedly “fabricating information that could incite people to political violence. ” Tewodros Kassa was freed on 6 September 2004 after more than two years in prison. Amnesty International considered Tewodros Kassa to be a prisoner of conscience detained on account of the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

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