Ethiopia has been at the forefront of this wave of violent intolerance. Members of the Oromo ethnic group are facing a brutal crackdown following initially peaceful protests that started in the fall of 2015. Some estimates place the number of persons killed at the beginning of 2016 at over 400. Thousands have been detained and hundreds of homes and businesses have been destroyed. The violent crackdown is consistent with the violent security force crackdowns in Oromia in 2014 and in Konso in March 2016 as well as against other protests.
Closing of Political Space in Ethiopia
This is the reality facing Ethiopians whom the government designates opponents of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The government heavily restricts freedom of expression and association, and severely constrains political space, especially for civil society organizations.
In the 2015 elections, the EPRDF and its allies claimed all of 547 seats in Parliament amid concern over the lack of conditions for free and fair elections. It has become virtually impossible to question, challenge or protest against any action of the government. According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, Ethiopia ranks 91 out of 102 countries with severe constraints on government powers and fundamental rights. Freedom House also rated the country “not free”. Ethiopia scores 6 out of 7, on a scale of 1-7 from free to not free, on both civil liberties and political rights. Civil society organizations have been forced to close, thousands of political prisoners are languishing in prisons, and human rights defenders who dare to speak out are forcibly imprisoned and beaten.
The use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation Act continues to be used to silence journalists and other critics who dare to speak out. People like noted journalist Eskinder Nega, Oromo leader Bekele Gerba, and Anuak Land rights activist Okello Akway Ochalla are all behind bars and charged with terrorism for opposing the government policies. They are just three individual stories of many who are suffering under the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on human rights.
Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in jail in 2012 for fulfilling his role as a journalist and questioning the use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to arrest those that criticized the government. This was not the first time Eskinder had faced unjust retaliation due to his refusal to be silenced. Eskinder’s son Nafkot was born in prison in 2005 when both Eskinder and hjs wife Serkalem were imprisoned for criticizing the government’s killing of nearly 200 people in post-election protests in 2005. Four years later after he was unjustly convicted and imprisoned once again, Eskinder Nega still languishes behind bars and more convictions have been handed down using the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
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Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a growing trend of evaporating political space. Non-governmental organizations are being heavily and often violently restricted, and newspapers, bloggers and other voices of dissent or criticism are being silenced or intimidated into exile.
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