The state stifled freedom of expression, severely restricting the activities of the independent media, political opposition parties and human rights organizations. Dissent was not tolerated in any sphere. The authorities imprisoned actual and perceived opponents of the government. Peaceful protests were suppressed. Arbitrary arrests and detention were common, and torture and other ill-treatment in detention centres were rife. Forced evictions were reported on a vast scale around the country.
In August, the authorities announced the death of Prime Minister Zenawi, who had ruled Ethiopia for 21 years. Hailemariam Desalegn was appointed as his successor, and three deputy prime ministers were appointed to include representation of all ethnic-based parties in the ruling coalition.
The government continued to offer large tracts of land for lease to foreign investors. Often this coincided with the “villagization” programme of resettling hundreds of thousands of people. Both actions were frequently accompanied by numerous allegations of large-scale forced evictions.
Skirmishes continued to take place between the Ethiopian army and armed rebel groups in several parts of the country – including the Somali, Oromia and Afar regions.
Ethiopian forces continued to conduct military operations in Somalia. There were reports of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment carried out by Ethiopian troops and militias allied to the Somali government.
In March, Ethiopian forces made two incursions into Eritrea, later reporting that they had attacked camps where they claimed Ethiopian rebel groups trained (see Eritrea entry). Ethiopia blamed Eritrea for backing a rebel group that attacked European tourists in the Afar region in January.Top of page
A number of journalists and political opposition members were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on terrorism charges for calling for reform, criticizing the government, or for links with peaceful protest movements. Much of the evidence used against these individuals consisted of examples of them exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.
The trials were marred by serious irregularities, including a failure to investigate allegations of torture; denial of, or restrictions on, access to legal counsel; and use of confessions extracted under coercion as admissible evidence.
Between July and November, hundreds of Muslims were arrested during a series of protests against alleged government restrictions on freedom of religion, across the country. While many of those arrested were subsequently released, large numbers remained in detention at the end of the year, including key figures of the protest movement. The government made significant efforts to quash the movement and stifle reporting on the protests.
The few remaining vestiges of the independent media were subjected to even further restrictions.
In May, the authorities issued a directive requiring printing houses to remove any content which could be defined as “illegal” by the government from any publications they printed. The unduly broad provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation meant that much legitimate content could be deemed illegal.
A large number of news, politics and human rights websites were blocked.
In July, Parliament passed the Telecom Fraud Offences Proclamation, which obstructs the provision and use of various internet and telecommunications technologies.Top of page
The Charities and Societies Proclamation, along with related directives, continued to significantly restrict the work of human rights defenders, particularly by denying them access to essential funding.
It was reported that the Agency began enforcing a provision in the law requiring NGO work to be overseen by a relevant government body, severely compromising the independence of NGOs.Top of page
Torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners were widespread, particularly during interrogation in pre-trial police detention. Typically, prisoners might be punched, slapped, beaten with sticks and other objects, handcuffed and suspended from the wall or ceiling, denied sleep and left in solitary confinement for long periods. Electrocution, mock-drowning and hanging weights from genitalia were reported in some cases. Many prisoners were forced to sign confessions. Prisoners were used to mete out physical punishment against other prisoners.
Allegations of torture made by detainees, including in court, were not investigated.
Prison conditions were harsh. Food and water were scarce and sanitation was very poor. Medical treatment was inadequate, and was sometimes withheld from prisoners. Deaths in detention were reported.
The authorities arrested members of political opposition parties, and other perceived or actual political opponents. Arbitrary detention was widespread.
According to relatives, some people disappeared after arrest. The authorities targeted families of suspects, detaining and interrogating them. The use of unofficial places of detention was reported.
Hundreds of Oromos were arrested, accused of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front.
Large numbers of civilians were reportedly arrested and arbitrarily detained in the Somali region on suspicion of supporting the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Between June and August, a large number of ethnic Sidama were arrested in the SNNP region. This was reportedly in response to further calls for separate regional statehood for the Sidama. A number of arrests took place in August around the celebration of Fichee, the Sidama New Year. Many of those arrested were detained briefly, then released. But a number of leading community figures remained in detention and were charged with crimes against the state.
There were reports of people being arrested for taking part in peaceful protests and publicly opposing certain “development projects”.Top of page
In several incidents, the police were accused of using excessive force when responding to the Muslim protest movement. Two incidents in Addis Ababa in July ended in violence, and allegations included police firing live ammunition and beating protesters in the street and in detention, resulting in many injuries. In at least two other protest-related incidents elsewhere in the country, police fired live ammunition, killing and injuring several people. None of these incidents was investigated.
Security forces were alleged to have carried out extrajudicial executions in the Gambella, Afar and Somali regions.Top of page
In September, the government and the ONLF briefly entered into peace talks with a view to ending the two-decade long conflict in the Somali region. However, the talks stalled in October.
The army, and its proxy militia, the Liyu police, faced repeated allegations of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, and rape. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees were widely reported. None of the allegations was investigated and access to the region remained severely restricted.
“Villagization”, a programme involving the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people, took place in the Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, Afar and SNNP regions. The programme, ostensibly to increase access to basic services, was meant to be voluntary. However, there were reports that many of the removals constituted forced evictions.
Large-scale population displacement, sometimes accompanied by allegations of forced evictions, was reported in relation to the leasing of huge areas of land to foreign investors and dam building projects.
Construction continued on large dam projects which were marred by serious concerns about lack of consultation, displacement of local populations without adequate safeguards in place, and negative environmental impacts.Top of page