By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | ADDIS ABABA (IDN) – The Ethiopian government has given itself sweeping new powers – from restrictions on freedom of assembly and free expression to the deployment of combat-ready troops in civilian centers. The newly imposed state of emergency is expected to last six months.
The harsh new limits on democratic expression – strongly criticised by the U.S. and the European Union – may have blindsided those in the international community who were expecting an opening for reforms with the surprise resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Under Desalegn, government forces turned against the majority ethnic Oromo and Amhara peoples, killing hundreds during anti-government protests to demand wider political freedoms.
The Oromo and Amhara make up about 61 percent of the population and have been demonstrating since 2015 demanding greater political inclusion and an end to human rights abuses. The ruling EPRDF coalition controls all the seats in parliament.
Mulatu Gemechu, deputy secretary of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said: “Ethiopians need a government that respects their rights, not one that keeps beating and killing them.”
The U.S. and the European Union support this view. The U.S. embassy in Ethiopia on February 17 urged Addis Ababa to reconsider its decision to institute martial law.
In a statement posted on its website, the U.S. embassy said the decision to impose martial law in Ethiopia on February 16 reverses positive steps taken to create a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners.
“We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency that includes restrictions on fundamental rights such as assembly and expression,” the statement said.
The European Union has also cautioned Ethiopian government over the decision to impose a state of emergency on the heels of promised political reforms.
In a statement on February 19, EU spokesperson Catherine Ray said: “The announced reinstatement of the State of Emergency risks undermining this very objective. It is therefore of the utmost importance that it should be as limited in time as possible and respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably those enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution. Violence should also be avoided.”
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government has released blogger Eskinder Nega and several prominent opposition figures from prison, as part of efforts to ease political tensions.
Nega was among the 746 prisoners freed as part of a government pardon. A newspaper editor, he was convicted in 2012 of publishing an article about the Arab Spring in which he asked whether a similar grassroots movement for democracy could take hold in Ethiopia. Convicted of providing support for terrorists, he was sentenced to 18 years behind bars.
Recalling his experience in Addis Ababa’s infamous Kality prison, Nega said grimly: “Ethiopia is one large prison. I say this because there is no democracy in the country. This is a dictatorship. We have to change this prison into a democratic state.”
As Americans marked Presidents Day on February 19, Ethiopians marked Martyrs Memorial Day and the 81th anniversary of the brutal killing of Ethiopians by Benito Mussolini’s troops during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in 1937. The war was a race by European colonial powers to expand their territories in Africa. The Italian Fascist army massacred over million Ethiopians in this invasion.
On February 18, the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association of NY, NJ &CT in collaboration with Global Alliance for Justice for Ethiopians held a ceremonial event at the State Office Building in Harlem. There was a minute of silence and prayer for those who died on Yekatit 12 and for all Ethiopians who died during the invasion between 1935 and 1941. Panellists were Professor Getatchew Haile and Dr. Habtamu Tegene. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 February 2018]
Photo: It has received little attention internationally but is the biggest political crisis to hit Ethiopia since the 2005 elections. Source: Human Rights Watch.
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