BY TESFA-ALEM TEKLE
- Latest wave of detentions come amid political unrest in Amhara state, as protesters oppose the country’s government plans to dissolve regional forces.
- Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have similarly condemned the latest swath of arrests of journalists.
- Ethiopia’s government announced a decree to disband all paramilitary forces in the country in pursuit of building a strong centralized army.
International rights organisations have urged Ethiopia to stop ‘arbitrarily arrests’ of journalists and to respect citizens’ right to peaceful protests.
The calls this week by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) came after Ethiopian authorities arrested at least seven journalists in the latest crackdown following an anti-government protest in the country’s Amhara region.
The two rights groups urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges.
“Ethiopian authorities must immediately release seven media staff detained against a backdrop of rising violence in the Amhara region, investigate allegations of physical assault against one of them and protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all,” Amnesty International said in a statement issued on Monday.
Amnesty expressed its concern about reports of violations and violence in Amhara where exchanges of gunfire have been reported in multiple locations, including the killing of two humanitarian workers on April 9 and the mass arrests across the country as well as in its capital Addis Ababa.
“Journalists and media workers need to be able to do their work without any threat, intimidation and harassment to effectively carry out their professional duties of informing the public as well as contributing to holding authorities accountable,” said Amnesty International East and Southern Africa Deputy Regional Director Flavia Mwangovya.
Amnesty said the recent ‘chilling arrest’ of journalists is an attack on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
It also called for an investigation to reports that some of the journalists were violently assaulted by security men during arrest.
“The government of Ethiopia should promptly, thoroughly, independently and effectively investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice in fair trials” Flavia Mwangovya stressed.
Calls on restrictions removal
As Ethiopia enters the third month of a government-imposed blockade on selected social media platforms, Amnesty International called on authorities to remove restrictions on human rights offline and online including the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
The international press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) made similar calls recently, urging the Ethiopian government to stop arbitrarily detaining members of the press during times of political tensions.
In a statement issued late last Friday CPJ said Ethiopian authorities have arrested at least eight journalists since April 3, in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
The latest wave of detentions come amid political unrest in Amhara state, as protesters oppose the country’s government plans to dissolve regional forces.
CPJ said the journalists remained behind bars facing allegations which include inciting violence, adding that the reporters mainly report and comment on political and social issues affecting the country’s second-largest Amhara ethnic group.
All six journalists work for privately owned YouTube-based outlets.
“The latest spate of arrests in Ethiopia paints a deeply depressing picture of the state of press freedom in the country,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo.
According to CPJ’s report, security officers allegedly assaulted at least two journalists while in custody.
The New York-based rights body urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately release the journalists and investigate allegations of maltreatment.
“Authorities should release all detained journalists, investigate allegations that some members of the press have been mistreated or assaulted while in state custody and ensure that journalists do not operate in an environment of fear,” Muthoki Mumo added.
The state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has similarly condemned the latest arrests of journalists.
The EHRC said the country’s government security forces should desist from arrests and intimidation of political party leaders and members, journalists and activists.
“When there is a case that they are suspected of crime and there is enough evidence, the arrests should be conducted in a careful manner and only as per the law,” EHRC added.
The commission likewise called for the release of the jailed journalists including some sympathetic to the Amhara ethnic group.
On April 6, the Ethiopian federal government announced a decree to disband paramilitary forces in all the country’s 11 states in pursuit of building a ‘strong centralised army’.
The decision received support in some regions including in Somali Region, Gambella, South, Benshangul Gumuz, Sidama and in the new Southwest regional state.
However, the decision has received huge opposition in Amhara region and led to a deadly mass protest.
EHRC reported last Wednesday that Ethiopian civilians were killed and injured as a result of action by the federal security forces or attacks by unidentified persons.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the decision to dismantle regional military forces will be implemented even if they have to pay a price for the sake of Ethiopia’s unity and peace.
On Saturday, Ethiopia’s army chief said the country had completed the dismantling of ‘special forces’ created by some regions, finalising a policy which sparked the recent unrest.
Estimated at over 250,000, the regional forces would be integrated into the federal army or regional police, according to the government’s policy.
(Source: The East African)