Johannesburg. 19 March 2013. The Ethiopian government’s recent decision to prosecute several independent journalists and forcibly dissolve three civil society groups represents yet another blow to democratic freedoms under Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.
CIVICUS calls attention to the following instances of unwarranted restrictions on freedoms of expression and association in Ethiopia:
- On 8 February 2013, the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa reinstated charges of “outrages against the Constitution,” “defamation” and “inciting the public through false rumours” against Temesghen Desalegn, the editor-in-chief of the now closed Feteh newspaper. Feteh was forced to suspend publication in July 2012 for its reporting on deceased Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health. Temesghen’s next hearing is scheduled for 26 March.
- In January 2013, in an apparent attempt eliminate Ethiopia’s few remaining independent media outlets, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority refused to renew the license of the Addis Times. As justification for the closure, the government made several unsubstantiated claims against the Addis Times including accusations that it had declined to notify the authorities of a change in ownership, failed to provide the National Archives with two copies of each issue, and failed to disclose its sources of funding.
- On 17 January 2013, security forces arrested Solomon Kebede, managing editor of the now defunct paper Ye Muslimoch Guday ("Muslim Affairs"), on suspicion of inciting terrorism under vague provisions of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation following the publication of several articles questioning the government’s excessive intrusion in Muslim affairs. Ethiopia’s government is currently engaged in a campaign to suppress coverage of continuing protests by Muslim groups demanding autonomy in religious affairs.
- The Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency has revoked the licences of One Euro; Islamic Cultural and Research Center; and Gohe Child, Youth and Women Development for allegedly conducting 'illegal religious activities' and contravening provisions of the controversial Charities and Societies Proclamation in February of this year. The Charities and Societies Proclamation prevents CSOs receiving more than 10% of their funding from international sources to engage in a wide range of activities including advancement of human and democratic rights, promotion of conflict resolution and reconciliation, criminal justice sector reform, and the rights of children and the disabled.
CIVICUS urges the international community and Ethiopia’s development partners to:
- Call for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained journalists and other political prisoners in the country,
- Urge the Ethiopian government to take steps to repeal the restrictive Charities and Societies Proclamation and ensure that the revocation of the licences of all civil society groups are subject to independent judicial oversight, and
- Establish mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation in Ethiopia and to make recommendations to the government.