Human Rights Watch warns rule of law disappearing in Ethiopia with opposition figures detained without charge

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Nobel prize wasted

Ethiopian authorities have been detaining dozens of opposition members and journalists for prolonged periods and often without charge since late June 2020, raising serious rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

A month after one of the most violent spates of unrest in the country’s recent history, police and prosecutors need to publicly account for all detainees’ whereabouts, comply promptly and fully with court bail orders, and ensure easy and regular access to lawyers and relatives for those not released, the rights group said.

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“The actions of Ethiopia’s investigative authorities raise concerns that they have not moved on from past practices of arresting first, and investigating later,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should promptly bring credible charges based on clear facts and evidence against the detainees or ensure their release.”

“Communities reeling from the recent violence deserve meaningful justice,” Bader said. “Entrusted with this responsibility, the government needs to show that it is both doing the hard work of bringing those responsible to account and that it can adhere to the rule of law by conducting credible and thorough investigations while still upholding the rights of those accused of serious offenses.”  

The arrests follow the June 29 killing of a popular Oromo artist and activist, Hachalu Hundessa, in Addis Ababa, the capital. Hachalu’s death triggered unrest and violence in several towns, particularly in the Oromia region, and left at least 178 people dead from both civilians and law enforcement. Some were mourners and protesters, killed by security forces when they opened lethal fire. Attacks on mainly ethnic and religious minority communities in Oromia also resulted in killings, massive property destruction, and displacement.

On June 30, security forces in Addis Ababa arrested Oromo Federalist Congress leaders Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba and Balderas Party figures Eskinder Nega and Sintayehu Chekol for their alleged involvement in the violence. The police have since arrested over 9,000 people, including government officials, many outside of Addis Ababa in the surrounding Oromia region, where independent monitoring of hearings and investigations is more limited.

The authorities detained government critics across the political spectrum, including Lammi Begna of the Oromo Liberation Front, whose whereabouts remained unknown for several weeks; Lidetu Ayalew, founding member of the Ethiopian Democratic Party; and officials from the former ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, such as Tewelde Gebre Tsadikan and Berihu Tsigie.

The police also arrested journalists representing various media outlets, including a Kenyan journalist, Yassin JumaGuyo Wario and Melesse Direbssa from the Oromia Media Network; and, most recently, on August 6, Belay Manaye and Mulugeta Anberbir from the Amharic language outlet Asrat Media. 

The latest bout of violence reflects deeper socio-political tensions, which continued to build after the government’s decision to delay anticipated national elections due to Covid-19. The authorities have now accused many opposition politicians of involvement in the unrest and of allegedly directing or inciting violence, including ethnic violence.

Federal and regional officials blamed people acting on the orders of a breakaway armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, for Hachalu’s killing. They accused the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front of coordinating the killing and the violence that followed, and a regional official accused the Balderas Party for involvement in unrest in Addis Ababa.

In media reports, officials accused several media outlets, including the Oromia Media Network, of broadcasting polarizing content during the unrest. Authorities opened investigations into and closed the Oromia Media Network’s Addis Ababa offices in early July. They have since alleged that the network and Asrat Media broadcasts incited communal violence.

Given the gravity of the abuses and crimes during the week of June 29, Ethiopian authorities are responsible for thoroughly investigating and identifying those responsible. But their response should not undermine defendants’ presumption of innocence, run roughshod over detainees’ rights, nor restrict legitimate critical dissent, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, relatives, and people released from detention found that detentions and investigations have been marred by serious due process violations.

Oromia police authorities withheld the whereabouts of several Oromo Liberation Front members from their lawyers and relatives for over a month and denied access to both even after lawyers discovered where they were held, Human Rights Watch found. Refusal to disclose the whereabouts or fate of someone in detention constitutes an enforced disappearance – a serious violation of human rights and a crime under international law, and prohibited in all circumstances.

As of August 14, lawyers still could not meet with Lammi or another party official, Dawit Abdeta. Lawyers representing Chaltu Takele, a political activist arrested in early July, said they met with her for the first time in federal court around July 20, weeks after her arrest.

Preventing detainees from communicating with families or promptly consulting with a lawyer may place the detainees at greater risk of abuse in detention and undermines their right to a fair trial, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch reached out to the office of the federal attorney general for a response to allegations that detainees had not been allowed to communicate with lawyers and family. The office responded, acknowledging that communications between suspects detained at temporary police detention centers, such as schools, and arrested suspects and their family and lawyers had been limited at first. But they claimed that detainees held at police stations did not face the same problem. This is not consistent with the facts that Human Rights Watch has determined in many cases.

Though credible and thorough investigations into complex abuses and events take time, Human Rights Watch believes that in several cases, police authorities sought to stretch or ignore legal requirements to prolong suspects’ detentions beyond what was justified by law. For example, they repeatedly appealed or seemed to ignore bail orders, requested more time to investigate, or transferred suspects between police authorities, some with overlapping jurisdictions, without informing relatives or counsel.

In response to Human Rights Watch inquiries, the office of the federal attorney general said that criminal investigations could move between various authorities depending on the location or nature of the crime, but did not comment on how this may affect the time a person spends in custody.

Chaltu’s lawyers and relatives said that federal authorities ignored a July 28 court bail order and transferred her to Oromia Police custody. For over a week, regional police denied her access to lawyers and family, including her baby. Chaltu was eventually taken before Sululta District Court in Oromia, where regional investigators accused her of the same offenses cited by federal authorities. Chaltu was finally released on August 11.

Under Ethiopian criminal law, courts can consider appeals against bail orders, and the federal attorney general’s office told Human Rights Watch that a detainee could stay in detention during that appeal. However, Human Rights Watch was told of cases in which police investigators also ignored court decisions denying appeals.

Federal and Addis Ababa police investigators appealed a federal court bail order to release Berihu, Tewelde, and three other detained Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front officials on July 30. Police then ignored a higher court decision rejecting the appeal, and transferred them to a detention site at a primary school. Relatives and lawyers said that federal authorities still have them in custody, without a court order, and are seeking to open a new investigation based on the same accusations and evidence.

On August 5, federal police similarly ignored a bail order to release journalists Melesse and Yassin. On August 11, federal police transferred Yassin to Addis Ababa police custody, where they accused him of the same allegations.

Defense lawyers expressed concern that courts granted repeated remand requests even though investigators lacked new evidence. After Jawar, Bekele, Eskinder, Sintayehu, and Aster Seyoum spent a month in detention, the attorney general opened a preliminary inquiry in their casea process which allows the prosecutor to proceed with a case before a decision to proceed to a full trial is taken and continue to keep accused in custody on remand.

Detainees have been kept at different sites where they face increased risks of contracting Covid-19 in detention. Relatives, lawyers, and those released said that several security guards and detainees, including Dejene Tafa, a senior Oromo Federalist Congress member, and Yassin reportedly tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.

At a time when international and global health experts are urging governments to reduce overcrowding in jails to tackle Covid-19, practices that lengthen the pretrial period are particularly problematic and ignore Ethiopia’s own commitments, Human Rights Watch said.

In the last decade, Human Rights Watch and other domestic and international human rights organizations have documented arbitrary arrests and politically motivated prosecutions to stifle dissent in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has domestic and international legal obligations to protect basic rights, including the rights to be free from arbitrary detention and if lawfully detained, provided with humane treatment and conditions and guaranteed a fair trial. The authorities should only bring charges for recognizable crimes and where there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Those detained should be informed of the specific grounds for their arrest, be able to fairly contest their detention before an independent and impartial judge, be permitted access to a lawyer and family members, and have their case periodically reviewed.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Where is Human Right in the World???
    We are losten lot of family’s in Ethopia
    Because of Abiy Ahmad is a Killer and Genocide

  2. Abiy is a killer. He has no mercy even for 3 month infant died after her father and mother shot died by the military. Abiy warn Haccaalu Hundeessa a year before and killed him a week after he criticize him. Abiy have no any love inside he is arrogant!!

  3. First of all,I would like to express my deep appreciation because of your being voice-of voiceless African’s Like Ethiopian people who suffer from Africans dictators.I am living in Ethiopia,Capital Addis Ababa. Now days Ethiopia is becoming hostile region for her nation and nationalities,and people at all.killing of innocent people by military (army) is becoming common.Children are suffered from gangs rape at military concentration camp.Schools are serving as prison office in all wereda’s and zonal administration of Oromia regional state.Abiy Ahmed who is leading the country is incapable,has no potential to lead the most diversified and complex country at this crisis time.He is killing his own people.Human rights are violated at hands of Noble peace Prized Man.Abiy Ahmed is really not a man of Peace.
    Thank You

  4. This Man has been written on my left hand when three days were left for prime minister. Since then, I have seen at least 7-10 times in my night dream. Including his role to the travel of religious men and elders to Mekele and the death of the Artist and role of Esayes. Just a week ago, I saw his name erased from and his death. Surely, he is on the way.

  5. Neo fascist Abiy Ahmed Ali government is terrorising Oromo in allout war, extrajudicial killing and disapearance, concentrating and infecting by COVID 19, the nation is in danger, unity and determinant struggle is the only solution for Ethiopian existence!

  6. my name is AHIMADEN SULTEN from Ethiopia oromia region shashemene distric in inside all oromo people abiy ahimed security police children & old man killing. Ethiopia government killler;dictoter abiy ahimed must go abiy ahimad dow dow dow.not support.
    Mootummaan abiy ahimad mootummaa abbaa irree kan ummata oromoo lafa irraa xuruura jiru xiqqaa hanga guddaa kana ofirraa kuffisuun hiree ummata oromooti.
    Akkasumas morkattoota paartilee siyaasa oromoo qilee keessatti hidhee ofii isaati soofaa irraa taa’e isaan hiraarsaa jiru osoo arginu rafnee bulla yaa sabaa!!!!!!!!
    አብይ ዓህመድ must go killer. አንባገነን ስርዓት ዪዞ የምሀድ እብድ ሰውዮ ለኢትዮጵያ ትልቁ ዘንዶ የሆኔ ዛንድሮ መጣ ያዐላህ
    abboo nurraa kuffisi jawwee ummata Ethiopia kana

  7. GENOCIDE is expected in Ethiopia very soon because of the KILLER Abiy Ahmed. He is Facilitating Conditions and Escalating things for GENOCIDE in the Country. He creates medias that daily broadcast Hate Speeches on some of the country’s Ethnic deliberate. And he also distributed weapons among different ethnic group. Finally, people of the Country are fearing for Genocide happening in the Country.
    International Community should take right actions before Abiy Ahmed’s EVIL ACTIONS become realized.

  8. In the first place I’m so grateful for having you understood the sever agony against Oromoo by the dectator Abiy Ahmed along with his cruel murder cabinet NEFTEGNA collections.For the regime, being an Oromoo is considered a crime and no one dare to speak Afaan Oromoo language in the capital as long as security forces chase such a person either to jail or shoot to death.
    As a result of these multitude insecurity and in human sort of treatment in the Empire of Ethiopia,I’d like to say ABIY MUST GO!

  9. How some one who has thinking mind and leading country(Abiy ahmed) keeps peace full Oromo’s Opposition parties members,Intellectuals,Activists,Business men,religious men and women, scholars, university Lecturers and others in different concentration camps like in schools ,in private houses,prison. military camps etc at this (COVID-19)era, and such man is now Nobel laureate?

    we are afraid as Ethiopian, as Oromos , as African and as human as well.
    I would like to advise to all world communities and world journalists, that in Ethiopia there is extrajudicial killings and disappearances taking place by brutal dictator Abiy,

    Though, we are looking for his immediate stepping down right now..!

  10. Nobel winner must be a killer
    #Abiy is a killer
    #Free all political prisoners
    #Stop killing oromo people
    #Justice for hacaalu
    #ABIY MUST GO

  11. Thank you HRW. Also, Abiy Ahmed’s New Government Health Policy (1) Anyone who doesn’t support Abiy Ahmed’s PP Party doesn’t get any treatment in Public Hospitals (2) Any medical doctor or nurse who treat non-supporters is fired out of job or arrested (many already jailed & shot dead)

    Another, USING RAPE AS A DEVICE FOR REPRESSION BY HUMILIATION: Mothers & fathers say that “Ethiopian Military is gang-raping their children” as young as “9-year old” (e.g., girl Rosa Abdu Gannatii in Manasibuu, Karaa Wayyuu village) in Gujii & Wallagga; the local ruler earlier warned “don’t let your boys or sons protest or go out or they suffer the consequence.”

  12. Ethiopia is at the edge of disappearance. Genocide seems to be appear soon. The Killer PM is simply catalyzes it. He doesn’t care about the people. He is dancing upon nothing.

  13. ”Badhaasa Qisaasa’e, Wasted Prize”
    HUMAN RIGHT WATCH…
    Dhabbanni mirga namoomaaf falmu kan sadarkaa addunyaa guddichi teessoo isaa ”New York’ maadheffate, Human Right Watch” Ethiopiyaa keessatti Olaantummaan seeraa barbadaa’aa jira/disappearance of Rule of Law / jechuun akeekkachiisee jira. Akkaataa neo neftegnaan itti garmaamtu kana miti dubbiin.
    Gabaasni kun haguggii gahaa qabatee waan jiruuf link keessaa ilaaluun ni danda’ama.
    IUOf
    Maddi: Africa News.
    …………………………………..
    We support the report at all though the coverage and the time/period of tragedy/ indicated in the report on the detaining opposition members and journalists without any charge is not since June 2020. I think it needs some correction on this dating. Because the atrocities, genocidal act, extrajudicial killings, house burning, kidnapping and detaining of opposition members and violation of civilians rights and etc.. has become almost two years tragedies in Ethiopia. Nowadays It’s day to day drama and tensions specially for Oromo, Larger ethnic group and that have been built up Ethiopian empire.
    All the above atrocities and tragedies have been done by the winner of 2019 ”Nobel peace prize, PM of Ethiopia. He’s a neftegna hybrid and in his statement He have dreamed to be the 7th king in the country, which move the state from federalism to the unitary system. However, the country never deserve as long as is an empire and museum of nation and nationalities more than 83 ethnic group. I enthusiastically recommend, the PM of Ethiopia, ‘Abiyi Ahmed” must appeal to ”International Criminal Court’ without any condition. We also advice and beg this organizations, HRW and others to allow independent investigations to investigate the detail findings of all political tragedies in Ethiopia for the last two years. We’ll support the report with no uncover ares of the tragedy.
    Thank you.
    _____________________________________

  14. Abiyi is a killer!
    He is paralyzing all opposition political parties by imprisoning the leaders with a known covid-19 infected people, shooting on people gathered to protest for their constitutional rights, motivating genocide to set up other opposition groups as terrorist. Every thing he is doing is to lie to his people with the help of monopoly controlled medias.

  15. ABIY IS A KILLER!
    ABIY IS A GENOCIDER!
    ABIY IS A DICTATOR !
    ABIY MUST GO!
    and
    Abiy must brought to the INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT(ICC) SOON!!

  16. Oromia is bleeding!
    Agaw is bleeding!
    Kemant is bleeding!
    walaita is bleeding!
    Ethiopian nations and nationalities are bleeding
    Ethiopia is bleeding!
    Abiy is the killer!
    Abiy must go!

  17. It sad to see the way abiy is taking Ethiopia . It unfortunate that Ethiopia fall on the hand of another dictator again. The guy is praising the old system that have oppressed majority of the population of that country. Ethiopia is a country of more than 82 ethnic group. The country needs a true leader who can understand the makeup of that country.He is not fit to lead.

  18. Abiy Ahmed is the Killer!!
    He is using COVID -19 as Biological Weapon, even in a 3×4 area house; there are 10-15 innocents are living under prison, at this Coviv-19 era. So please we need World shout for Ethiopian and remove the terrorist Abiy Ahmed soon!
    He is killing innocents day to day and terrorizing Oromoo People

  19. There is a fear of a state genocide / state terrorism. Including schools and universities are concentration centers at COVID 19 era! Extrajudicial killing and disappearance are common! Demand for equality justice and freedom are accused as terror, conspiracy, inhuman, genocide, radical ….

  20. There is a fear of a state genocide / state terrorism. Including scholars and universities are concentration centers at COVID 19 era! Extrajudicial killing and disappearance are common! Demand for equality justice and freedom are accused as terror, conspiracy, inhuman, genocide, radical ….

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