Ethiopia detains thousands of opposition supporters, activists say

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

Banned groups have warned that Ethiopia is detaining thousands of opposition activists and other dissenters based on their ethnicity, including people of Somali origin.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the government’s decision to detain, and in some cases, charge and jail those deemed to be against the government’s policies in a bid to stifle dissent is “unusual” and shows “a violation of rights.”

Thousands of opponents have been arrested since a bid to topple the government began in 2015, according to HRW’s research, with the Ethiopians Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERDF) party putting the number of detainees at over 7,000.

The opposition party blames the charges against its supporters on ethnic discrimination, and says around 3,500 are held in prison.

HRW received its information from a range of sources, including the government, according to HRW.

Focus on ethnicity, people of Somali origin

The Ethiopian government had initially denied ethnic discrimination, but when a moratorium was imposed on land confiscations in late 2016, it referred to government critics in ethnic groups as “aliening elements.”

HRW praised the move but the group’s report said the rhetoric continued.

“Ethiopia’s majority ethnic groups should oppose what HRW calls ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the country’s indigenous peoples,” HRW wrote.

“But Ethiopia’s most marginalized ethnic groups should as well — they are Ethiopia’s future.”

According to HRW’s research, the government has recently grown more concerned with protecting ethnic communities from persecution.

“Ethiopia’s government has begun to revise policies allowing conflict, famine, and conflict between groups of the same ethnicity,” HRW wrote.

HRW added that the government’s attitude was especially prominent in the use of three separate laws, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, the National Defense Act and the Anti-Terrorism Decree.

‘People don’t want to be in jail’

It is currently illegal for ethnic groups to work with what is described as a “terrorist organization.”

The National Defense Act has no upper limit on charges and allows the authorities to “dispute evidence” on site without due process. The National Decree gives the state the power to dissolve any organization that is deemed to be “terrorist.”

On Thursday, the HRW report says, the government abruptly banned preparations for Ethio-Oromo National Unity, a political party whose rallies have been outlawed in the past.

“People didn’t want to be in jail and didn’t want to be afraid,” Baba Dino, a regional chairman and executive director of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, told HRW, referring to demonstrators who had been gathering since October 2016.

The government has said many of the charges against detainees are based on allegations of civil disobedience.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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