U.S. slammed the Meles Regime for gross violations of Human Rights

U.S. Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007
Ethiopia is a federal republic under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. The country's population was approximately 77 million. In the May 2005 parliamentary elections, the EPRDF won a third consecutive five-year term. Domestic and international observers reported that polling throughout the country was generally credible, although irregularities and intimidation of voters and election observers marred polling in many areas. Political parties predominantly were ethnically based, but opposition parties engaged in a steady process of consolidation. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances in which elements within those forces acted independently of government authority.
Human rights abuses reported during the year included: limitation on citizens' right to change their government during the most recent elections; unlawful killings, and beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the opposition; detention of thousands without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights and frequent refusal to follow the law regarding search warrants; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists for publishing articles critical of the government; restrictions on freedom of assembly; limitations on freedom of association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of political killings; however, federal and local police forces committed unlawful killings during the year.
On January 23, federal police shot and killed 15 demonstrators and injured 19 others in the East Wallega zone, Guduru District. The shootings occurred during a demonstration by residents against local government forces. No investigation was conducted into the incident.
On February 6, off-duty federal police officer Alemu Dariba, along with other unidentified persons, killed four youths in Gondar. Dariba allegedly approached 17-year-old Berket Fantahu; 18-year-old Abebe Wondem-Agegn; 18-year-old Sentayhu Worknehand; and 19 year-old Dawit Tesfaye and ordered them to raise their hands. He then marched them to a stream 30 yards away, forced them to the ground, and shot each of them in the head. Dariba was arrested shortly after the incident and remained in custody without charge at year's end.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) reported that on May 27, in a violent conflict between local store owners in Nazret, Oromiya Region, police shot and killed Alemu Tesfaye, Tariku Yakiso, and Mensur Musema. Police had attempted to evict the store owners, and the owners and their employees responded by throwing rocks at the police. No investigation was conducted into the incident.
During the year reports were received of the August 2005 killing of Elias Molago, of Gibe District, by army troops. After Molago was killed, his body was publicly displayed in the town of Hosana, the district capital. Molago, an election observer in the 2000 parliamentary elections, had disputed the official results that gave the ruling party victory in the area. No investigation was conducted into Molago's killing.
There were no developments in the early 2005 political killings of opposition All-Ethiopia Unity Party/Coalition for Unity and Democracy (AEUP/CUD) party members Anley Adis, Eyilegne Wendimneh, Tilahun Kerebe, and Alamir Aemero. At the end of 2005 police had arrested two suspects in the killing of Tilahun Kerebe, but no further information was available.
There were no developments in the 2005 political killings by police, militia, and kebele (local administration) officials of 24 Oromo National Congress (ONC) members, including Ahmed Adem and parliamentarian-elect Tesfaye Adane. At year's end, three police officers suspected of involvement in Adane's killing were detained at Zway prison as their case remained under investigation.
There were no further developments in the 2005 political killing of CUD coordinator Hassan Endris in Amhara Region or the May killing of Sheikh Osman Haji Abdella in Oromo Region. Both killings were committed by kebele officials.
There were no developments in the August 2005 political killing of Bezela Lombiso and the rape of his wife by army troops. Bezela had been accused of killing a policeman during the 2000 national and regional elections.
There were no developments in the September 2005 killing of CUD member Asefa Getahun, the October 2005 political killing of Girma Biru, or the extrajudicial killings of Mosse Wasse and Tila Tsega.
There were no significant developments in the following cases of persons killed by security forces in 2004: the killing of Kebede Uzo in the Somali region, the killing of ninth-grade student Alemu Tesfaye in Oromiya region; the killing of high school student Amelework Buli of Oromiya region; the killings of various AEUP supporters; the killing of 10 persons in Gode town; the killing of Geletaw Mamo of Amhara region and Efrem Alemayehu of Addis Ababa.
There were no new developments reported in the following 2005 police killings of demonstrators: the June killings of 42 unarmed demonstrators in Addis Ababa; the November killings of 46 rioters; the killings of student Shibre Desalegn, 16-year-old student Nebiy Alemayehu, Zulufa Surur (a mother of seven children), or 16-year-old brothers Fekadu Negash and Abraham Yilma. Seven police officers were also killed during the November riots, and no individuals were charged in these cases.
In late October the commission of inquiry established by the government to investigate the alleged use of excessive force by security forces in violent 2005 antigovernment demonstrations released its report. The commission found that 193 civilians--nearly four times the number originally reported by the government--and 6 members of the security forces were killed, while 763 civilians and 71 members of the security forces were injured, many seriously.
The commission also found that security forces did not use excessive force, given demonstration violence; however, prior to the release of the report, the chairman and deputy chairman of the commission fled the country, allegedly in response to threats made against them by government forces. After fleeing, both stated publicly and showed video evidence that at an official meeting in June, the commission had originally decided, by a vote of eight to two, that excessive force was used and that the total number of killed and injured was the same as eventually reported. Following this vote, government officials allegedly urged commission members to change their votes to indicate that excessive force was not used.
At year's end the criminal trial of government soldiers who were charged with the killing, rape, and torture of hundreds of Anuaks during the December 2003 to May 2004 violence in the Gambella region remained ongoing. In 2004 an independent inquiry commission was established to investigate this case. As a result of the commission's findings, six members of the army were arrested and placed on trial for their involvement in the killings.
At year's end there were approximately two million landmines in the country, many dating from the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea. During the year landmines killed five and injured 20 civilians in districts bordering Eritrea. The government demining unit continued to make limited progress in its survey and demining of border areas. United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) officials reported that new landmines were planted on both sides of the border with Eritrea during the year. The government and UNMEE engaged in demining activities in selected areas along the border and disseminated information on the whereabouts of suspected mined areas to local residents.
Armed elements of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) continued to operate within the country. Clashes with government forces on numerous occasions resulted in the death of an unknown number of civilians, government security forces, and OLF and ONLF troops and members.
On April 15, a blast in the central market place in the town of Gedo, Oromiya region killed 15 persons and injured 37 others. The government accused dissident Oromo groups of involvement, but all denied responsibility. A number of individuals, including alleged ONC supporters, were arrested in connection with the bombing, although at year's end there were no reports of legal proceedings.
During the year several bomb explosions were reported in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country. On May 12, four persons were killed and 42 were injured in nine separate bombings in Addis Ababa. Security forces blamed the OLF and accused it of operating in cooperation with the Eritrean government; the OLF denied responsibility. There were no arrests in this case.
In late May, 42 persons were injured in three simultaneous bomb blasts at a hotel and two restaurants in Jijiga, Somali region.
Violent clashes between different ethnic clans during the year resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries and displaced tens of thousands (see section 5).
On June 11, a group of armed men attacked a bus en route from Addis Ababa to Gambella, near the town of Bonga, Gambella region. At least 14 persons were killed and several others injured. Reports indicated that the assailants may have been ethnic Anuak dissidents. Several people were arrested in connection with this event and charged with murder. At year's end their case was ongoing.
On September 3, a hand grenade was thrown into the Wendimamchoch Hotel in the town of Jijiga, killing the owner and injuring seven others. The government had not identified suspects or made any arrests by year's end.
On September 15, an explosion in Addis Ababa killed three persons. The government reported that those killed were OLF members attempting to construct a bomb, using materials supplied by Eritrea. However, many believed that government security forces may have been involved in the bombing.
A series of clashes between Muslims and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during the year resulted in numerous deaths and injuries (see section 2.c.).
There were no further developments in the 2005 hand grenade attacks on four hotels and a residence in Jijiga, which resulted in five deaths and 31 injuries.
No further information was available on the trials of suspects arrested in connection with the 2004 hand grenade attack on a television room at Addis Ababa University.
There were no developments in the 2004 hand grenade attack on a Tigrayan-owned shop in Debre Zeit, Oromiya region. Police blamed the OLF for the attack.
The federal high court in Addis Ababa continued to arraign and prosecute those formally charged with committing genocide and other war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, under the 1975-91 Derg regime (see section 1.e.).
b. Disappearance
The politically motivated disappearances of tens of thousands of civilian protestors following the November 2005 political demonstrations persisted into the current reporting period. The independent commission of inquiry into the alleged use of force by security forces in June and November 2005 found that security officials held over 30,000 civilians incommunicado for up to three months in detention centers located in remote areas following the November 2005 demonstrations. Other estimates placed the number of such detainees at over 50,000. By year's end, all but a few hundred of these prisoners were released and those who remained in custody currently were facing trial.
In January EHRCO reported the December 2005 disappearances of six persons. On December 2, security forces abducted Lt. Abebe Alemu of Lafto Subcity, Addis Ababa; Heletework Zewdu of Akaki Subcity, Addis Ababa; and Wondimagegene Gedefaw of Kolfe Subcity, Addis Ababa. On December 21 and 22, security forces abducted Tadesse Zelelam, Ayana Chindessa, and Legesse Tolera at Nekemt High School in Nekemt, Oromiya region.
There were no developments in the June 2005 abduction by security forces of Addis Ababa residents Ashenafi Berhanu, Tsegaye Neguse, Daniel Worku, Adem Hussien, Jelalu Temam, Girum Seifu, Mekonnen Seifu, Endeshaw Terefe, Daniel Abera, Tesfaye Bacha, Tesfaye Jemena, Bonsa Beyene, Getu Begi, Solomon Bekele, Amanuel Asrat, Mesfin Mergia, or Dawit Demerew. The whereabouts of these individuals remained unknown.
There were no new developments in the May detention of Jigsa Soressa, a guard at the Mecha and Tulema Association (MTA), an Oromo Non-governmental organization (NGO), who reportedly continued to be detained at Addis Ababa prison.
In June 2005 three Ethiopian air force personnel landed a military helicopter at Ambouli, Djibouti; two of them reportedly requested asylum, but an Ethiopian military delegation reportedly convinced them to return to Ethiopia the next day. Amnesty International (AI) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) attempted to visit them in Djibouti but were refused. At year's end, family members told local press that the pilots were detained at an air force base and were restricted from seeing visitors.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. Opposition political parties reported frequent and systematic abuse of their supporters by police and regional militias.
On February 28, the opposition ONC reported that security forces beat and intimidated regional parliamentarian Wegayehu Dejene of Me-ea District, Oromiya region following a regional council meeting. At year's end no one had been charged.
The EHRCO reported that on July 30, security forces detained and beat one Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM) and five ONC regional parliamentarians after their attendance in a court case involving Mecha and Tulema Association members. At year's end no one had been charged.
The ONC reported that on January 23, several armed soldiers raped seven female residents of Guduru District, Oromiya region. The victims ranged in age from 18 to 37. At year's end there were no arrests.
There were no developments in the May 2005 of beating and subsequent suicide death of Abdeta Dita Entele, a member of the opposition coalition Oromo National Congress/United Ethiopian Democratic Forces of Siraro District in the Oromo region.
There were no developments in the October 2005 reported attack on Daniel Bekele, a policy advocate for the NGO ActionAid Ethiopia and a member of the executive committee of the Network of Ethiopian Non-governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations, which monitored the May 2005 elections. At year's end Bekele remained in police detention on trial for treason and genocide.
Authorities took no action against police responsible for the 2004 beatings of students, teachers, and parents at Oromiya region high schools and universities or against militia responsible for 2004 attacks on its members reported by the opposition All-Ethiopia Unity Party.
Security forces beat persons during demonstrations (see section 2.b.).
There were no developments in the 2005 report of two former senior government officials--former national and public security minister Tesfaye Woldeselase and Leggesse Belayneh, former head of criminal investigations--who were given death sentences by the federal high court for torturing political opponents during the former Mengistu regime. At year's end, the death sentences had not been carried out.
During the year ethnic clashes resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths (see section 5).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained very poor, and overcrowding continued to be a serious problem. Prisoners often were allocated fewer than 21.5 square feet of sleeping space each in a room that could contain up to 200 persons. The daily meal budget was approximately $0.35 (3 birr) per prisoner, and many prisoners had family members deliver food daily or used personal funds to purchase food from local vendors. Prison conditions were unsanitary, and access to medical care was unreliable. There was no budget for prison maintenance.
In detention centers police often physically abused detainees. Authorities generally permitted visitors but sometimes denied them access to detainees. For example, the detained leaders of the CUD party had their visitation rights limited to immediate family members for a portion of the year.
While statistics were unavailable, there were some deaths in prison due to illness and poor health care. Prison officials were not forthcoming with reports of such deaths. The commission of inquiry into the 2005 post-election violence found at least 17 arrested protestors died in detention.
Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults if they could not be accommodated at the juvenile remand home. There was only one juvenile remand home for children under age 15, with the capacity to hold 150 children.
Human rights organizations reported that in 2005 the government had transported 10,000 to 18,000 individuals (mostly youths ages 18 to 23 detained during the November 2005 mass house-to-house searches in Addis Ababa) to Dedessa, a military camp formerly used by the Derg regime located 375 kilometers west of the capital. During the year most of the prisoners were released, although a few hundred remained in custody, facing charges for alleged crimes related to the November 2005 searches.
In July a new 90 bed facility for women was inaugurated at Kaliti. The separate building on the compound was constructed by Justice for All - Prison Fellowship, with funding from foreign governments. The facility improved sanitary conditions, provided greater privacy to female inmates, and was expected to help reduce overcrowding. The construction of a new prison for men near Kaliti was underway at year's end.
During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited regional prisons, civilian detention facilities, and police stations throughout the country and conducted hundreds of visits involving thousands of detainees. However, they were restricted from visiting federal prisons, including those where senior opposition, civil society, and media leaders were being held. The Prison Fellowship Ethiopia, a local NGO, was granted access to various prison and detention facilities, including federal prisons. The government also periodically granted diplomatic missions access to regional prisons and prison officials, subject to advanced notification. Authorities allowed the ICRC to meet regularly with prisoners without third parties being present. The ICRC received permission to visit military detention facilities where the government detained suspected OLF fighters. The ICRC also continued to visit civilian Eritrean nationals and local citizens of Eritrean origin detained on alleged national security grounds.
Government authorities continued to permit diplomats to visit prominent detainees held by the Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) for alleged involvement in war crimes and terrorist activities. However, the government limited access of representatives of the international community access to leaders of the CUD opposition party, members of civil society groups, and journalists detained in November 2005 for alleged involvement in antigovernment demonstrations in Addis Ababa, who remained in federal police custody at Addis Ababa's Kaliti prison at year's end. The government also permitted Prison Fellowship Association and local religious leaders to visit these detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Federal Police Commission reports to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, which in turn is subordinate to the parliament. Local government militias also operated as local security forces largely independent of the police and the military. Petty corruption remained a problem in the police force, particularly among traffic policemen who solicited bribes from motorists. Impunity also remained a serious problem. The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into such types of abuses. The federal police acknowledged that many members of its police force as well as regional police lacked professionalism.
The government continued its efforts to train police and army recruits in human rights. During the year the government continued to seek assistance from the ICRC, Prison Fellowship Association and the EHRCO to improve and professionalize its human rights training and curriculum to include more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions.
In November the commission investigating the alleged use of excessive force by security forces in violent antigovernment demonstrations of June and November 2005 delivered its report (see section 1.a.).
Arrest and Detention
Authorities regularly detained persons without warrants and denied access to counsel and family members, particularly in outlying regions. Although the law requires detainees to be informed of the charges against them within 48 hours, this generally was not respected in practice. While there was a functioning bail system, it was not available for some offenses, including murder, treason, and corruption. In most cases authorities set bail between $115 and $1,150 (1,000 to 10,000 birr), which was too costly for most citizens. In addition police officials did not always respect court orders to release suspects on bail. With court approval, persons suspected of serious offenses can be detained for 14 days while police conduct an investigation, and for additional 14 day periods while the investigation continues. The law prohibits detention in any facilities other than an official detention center; however, there were dozens of crude, unofficial local detention centers used by local government militia.
The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel, but only when their cases went to court. While in pretrial detention, authorities allowed such detainees little or no contact with legal counsel.
There were many reports from opposition party members that in small towns authorities detained persons in police stations for long periods without access to a judge, and that sometimes these persons' whereabouts were unknown for several months. Opposition parties registered many complaints during the year that government militias beat and detained their supporters without charge for participating in opposition political rallies (see section 1.c.).
The government continued its harassment of teachers, particularly in Oromiya region. The independent Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) reported that authorities detained numerous teachers and accused them of being OLF sympathizers, many of whom remained in prison at year's end. For example, in December prominent union members Tilahun Ayalew, Anteneh Getnet and Meqcha Mengistu were taken into police custody. Some of the teachers had been in detention for several years without charges. Human rights observers suspected several of the prolonged detentions were politically motivated.
Police continued to enter private residences and arrest individuals without warrants (see section 1.f.).
Police detained journalists during the year (see section 2.a.).
On May 27, following clashes between local police and store owners, 180 persons were detained by security forces in the town of Nazret, Oromiya region, and charged with inciting uprising and destruction of property (see section 1.a.). At year's end most of those arrested had charges dismissed and were released; however, there was no information available on those still detained.
On August 30, security forces rounded up 250 persons in the town of Tikur Inchini, Oromiya region, following an uprising by local ONC activists. At year's end 81 persons remained in prison facing charges of treason.
Authorities took no action against Amhara region government militia, district officials, and police who arbitrarily detained AEUP members in 2004. ONC member Olbana Lelisa, who was arbitrarily detained in 2004, was released in 2005.
Due to the fact that demonstrations were banned in November 2005, there were no reports that police detained persons for holding meetings and demonstrations. Opposition groups alleged that some of the persons detained by the SPO were held for political reasons, an allegation that the government denied (see section 1.e.).
In January international media reported that more than 11,000 persons detained in November 2005 following large-scale antigovernment demonstrations had been released. However, the commission of inquiry into post-election political violence found that over 30,000 individuals had been detained, while other reports placed the number at over 50,000. More than 2,200 of the prisoners were released without charge. An additional 734 persons detained during violence in Addis Ababa were released on January 6. More than 650 prisoners related to the protests were still being held at the Ziway detention camp in January, and the exact number of persons who remained in custody at year's end was not known.
In early February AI alleged that the government was still holding thousands of students under arrest in Oromiya region. The government denied the accusation, and claimed that only 86 students were under arrest for offenses including violence, property destruction, and "disrupting the teaching and learning process."
Alemayu Fantu, a prominent retailer, was arrested in October for allegedly being in possession of CUD civil disobedience calendars. He was released on bail after several weeks.
At year's end scores of CUD leaders, several members of NGOs active in civic education, and independent journalists detained in November 2005 remained in detention (see section 1.e.).
All of the OFDM members detained following the May 2005 parliamentary elections had been released by the end of the year.
In response to attacks by armed opposition groups operating out of Somalia and Kenya, the military continued to conduct operations, which included occasional arbitrary detentions, in the Southern, Somali, and Oromiya regions.
Authorities took no action against Amhara region government militia, district officials, and police who arbitrarily detained AEUP and ONC members in 2004. Authorities also took no action against police who in 2004 detained hundreds of Oromo students and teachers for several weeks in detention centers on suspicion of being supporters of the OLF.
Thousands of criminal suspects reportedly remained in pretrial detention, some for years. Some of the detainees were teachers and students from the Oromiya region accused of involvement in OLF activities or arrested after student unrest broke out in Oromiya in 2004.
The government continued to detain several persons without charge at the Gondar prison, some of whom had been in custody for years, while the police investigated their cases.
Amnesty
On September 10, the government granted its first amnesty in 30 years. This decision by the federal and regional pardon boards secured the release of nearly 10,000 prisoners, which represented approximately 15 percent of the total prison population. In total 237 prisoners were freed from federal prisons, and 26 others, including 11 death row inmates, were given reduced sentences. The remaining were released from regional prisons: 3,995 from Amhara; 2,435 from Oromo; 1,100 from Tigray; 2,400 (approximately) from the Southern National and Nationalities Region; and 43 from Gambella. Convicted rapists and those jailed for corruption were not included in the amnesty.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary remained weak and overburdened. The judiciary was perceived to be subject to significant political intervention.
The government continued to decentralize and restructure the judiciary along federal lines with the establishment of courts at the district, zonal, and regional levels. The federal high court and the federal Supreme Court heard and adjudicated original and appeal cases involving federal law, transregional issues, and national security. The regional judiciary was increasingly autonomous and often heard regional cases.
Regional offices of the federal Ministry of Justice monitored local judicial developments. Some regional courts had jurisdiction over both local and federal matters, as the federal courts in those jurisdictions had not begun operation; overall, the federal judicial presence in the regions was limited. Anecdotal evidence suggested that some local officials believed they were not accountable to a higher authority. Pending the passage of regional legislation, federal procedural and substantive codes guide all judges.
To remedy the severe lack of experienced staff in the judicial system, the government continued to identify and train lower court judges and prosecutors, although officials acknowledged that salaries did not attract the desired number of competent professionals.
Trial Procedures
According to the law, accused persons have the right to a fair public trial by a court of law within a "reasonable time," the right to a presumption of innocence, the right to be represented by legal counsel of their choice, and the right to appeal. Despite these protections, closed proceedings occurred, at times authorities allowed detainees little or no contact with their legal counsel (see section 1.d.), and detainees usually were not presumed innocent. The Public Defender's Office provides legal counsel to indigent defendants, although its scope remained severely limited, particularly with respect to SPO trials. Although the law explicitly stipulates that persons charged with corruption are to be shown the body of evidence against them prior to their trials, authorities routinely denied defense counsel access to such evidence before trial.
The law provides legal standing to some pre existing religious and customary courts and allows federal and regional legislatures to recognize other courts. By law, all parties to a dispute must agree that a customary or religious court will be used before it may hear a case. Shari'a (Islamic) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims. In addition, other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, continued to function. Although not sanctioned by law, these traditional courts resolved disputes for the majority of citizens who lived in rural areas and generally had little access to formal judicial systems.
The federal first instance court's seventh criminal branch handled cases of sexual abuse against women and children.
Three federal judges sat on one bench to hear all cases involving juvenile offenses. There was a large backlog of juvenile cases, and accused children often remained in detention with adults until officials heard their cases.
The military justice system lacked adequately trained staff to handle a growing caseload. Foreign assistance to train military justice officials resumed during the year.
On December 12, following a 12-year trial, 57 top officials from the former Derg regime, including former communist dictator Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, were found guilty of genocide, treason and murder for crimes committed during their 17 years of rule. Twenty-seven of those convicted, including Colonel Mengistu, were tried in absentia, as they had fled the country. Their sentencing was pending at year's end. By the end of the reporting period, courts had convicted 1,018 persons involved with the Derg regime of crimes related to their role in atrocities, while 5,000 to 6,000 others remained on trial in other cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The total number of political prisoners and detainees during the year was estimated to be in the hundreds.
The CUD leadership, civil society members, human rights defenders, and journalists arrested following the demonstrations in November 2005 remained on trial at year's end, facing charges of treason, attempted genocide, and "outrages against the constitution," among other serious charges carrying potential punishments of life in prison or death. Those on trial included Addis Ababa mayor-elect Berhanu Nega, former UN Rwanda Tribunal prosecutor Yacob Hailemariam, human rights activist Mesfin Woldemariam, ActionAid representative Daniel Bekele, Netsanet Demissie, and federal parliamentarian Kifle Tigneh, among other prominent individuals. Nearly 200 defendants, ranging in age from 18 to 76, were being prosecuted in four separate cases in Addis Ababa. Five Voice of America (VOA) journalists were among those initially charged, although their cases were dropped following international pressure.
The 200 political prisoners on trial in the Addis Ababa federal system were held in two separate prisons, Kaliti and Kerchele, often under harsh conditions. In March CUD Secretary General Muluheh Eyoel was placed in solitary confinement at Kerchele prison. In August fellow CUD member Andualem Arage, along with journalists Sisay Agena and Eskinder Nega, were placed in solitary confinement.
During their incarceration, several political prisoners experienced serious health problems. Some were taken to a special prison hospital, where they were treated and returned to detention facilities, while others complained of not having received any treatment. During the year pregnant journalist Serkalem Fassil prematurely gave birth while in detention at Kaliti. She was refused permission to remain in the hospital to nurse. The baby's father, fellow journalist Eskinder Nega, was kept in solitary confinement and was not allowed to see his child.
Family members reported that the political prisoners were denied proper light, mattresses and, adequate bathroom facilities. Several defendants and families complained of having their visitation rights restricted on a number of occasions during the year. The visitation rules for political prisoners were more restrictive than the rules for other prisoners held in the same facilities. The ICRC was not permitted regular access to political prisoners (see section 1.d).
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law provides citizens the right to appeal human rights violations in civil court; however, no such cases were filed during the year. Additionally, the Human Rights Commission, an office established by parliament to record human rights violations, was intended to act as a clearinghouse for human rights complaints from individual citizens. The commission had not yet established this capacity by year's end.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law requires authorities to obtain judicial search warrants to search private property; however, in practice, particularly outside Addis Ababa, police often searched property without obtaining warrants (see section 1.d.). Opposition party representatives claimed that police sometimes used fraudulent warrants to enter homes and commit criminal acts, including extorting money. There were reports that members of the federal police robbed persons during the year, including through the use of false warrants.
There continued to be reports of police forcibly entering civilian homes. During and following antigovernment demonstrations in June and November 2005, security forces entered homes and searched premises without warrants, took thousands of persons from their homes in the middle of the night without warrants, and often detained family members or other residents.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports from oppositon party members that authorities burned down their homes and looted their offices.
All electronic communications facilities were state owned. Political party leaders reported incidents of phone-tapping and other electronic eavesdropping.
The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals.
There were reports during the year of the forced displacement of families in rural areas. The government stated that its resettlement program, which moved families from drought prone areas to more fertile lands, was entirely voluntary, but opposition parties accused local authorities in some rural areas of targeting opposition supporters for resettlement by manipulating resettlement rosters. Media reports indicated that in several instances, the government resettled persons in areas with no existing infrastructure or clean water supply, resulting in unusually high rates of infant mortality.
During the year there continued to be credible reports from EHRCO and opposition parties that in certain rural areas in the Oromiya region; Amhara region; and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples region; local officials used threats of land redistribution and withholding of food aid and fertilizer to garner support for the ruling coalition. There were many reports of ruling party or government harassment intended to prevent individuals from joining opposition parties or from renting property to them. There were numerous reports of more serious forms of harassment and violence directed against members of opposition parties in many areas of the country, including beatings, house burnings, and killings (see sections 1.c., 1.d., 3, and 5).
There also were credible reports that teachers and other government workers had their employment terminated if they belonged to opposition political parties. According to the opposition Southern Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Coalition (SEPDC), the regional government continued to dismiss SEPDC members--particularly teachers--from their jobs.
The law imposes a six month waiting period on anyone seeking to remarry following a divorce or the death of one's spouse (see section 5). The government maintained that this waiting period was necessary to determine whether a woman may still be carrying the child of her former spouse. In practice this was not enforced, although the official overseeing such weddings may request a pregnancy test to show the woman was not pregnant from a previous marriage. Any interested party may request a written official explanation of why a wedding was allowed to occur within the waiting period.
Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
While the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government continued to harass and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors for publishing allegedly fabricated information and for other violations of the press law. The government continued to control all broadcast media. Private and government journalists routinely practiced self censorship.
Government-controlled media reflected mostly the views of the government and the ruling EPRDF coalition. However, live radio and television broadcasts at times included televised parliamentary debate and broadcast the views of opposition parliamentarians, as did government newspapers. Relations between the private press and the government were not as strained as in the period immediately following the elections and the disturbances of June and November 2005, but the majority of private media existing in 2005 was effectively silenced by the closures of several publications and self-censorship following arrests and indictments of journalists.
Government actions against the private press that began during the May 2005 elections effectively silenced most private newspapers. Local journalists complained of constant government harassment as well as more subtle forms of censorship, including pressure on printers not to print the newspapers. As a result, the number of private newspapers available in Addis Ababa decreased dramatically from the period prior to the election to the end of the year. Eight newspapers were banned after their publishers and editors-in-chief were arrested. Six others newspapers ceased publication directly as a result of the government's crackdown or the government-owned printing presses refusal to print the papers. The closed papers had a combined total weekly circulation of approximately 400,000. Following the crackdown, only approximately 40,000 copies of the six remaining private Amharic language political papers were in circulation.
Foreign journalists at times published articles critical of the government but were subjected to government pressure to self-censor their coverage. During the year some reporters were expelled from the country for publishing articles critical of the government.
On January 21, Associated Press correspondent Anthony Mitchell was given 24 hours to leave the country a day after reporting on renewed clashes between police and protesters in Addis Ababa. The state-owned Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) said the government had decided to expel Mitchell for "tarnishing the image of the nation repeatedly, contravening journalism ethics," and "disseminating information far from the truth about Ethiopia." Mitchell, a foreign citizen who also worked for the UN news agency IRIN had worked in the country for more than five years.
On February 21, foreign journalist Inigo Gilmore was denied press accreditation by the Ministry of Information. In December 2005 Gilmore had published an article in the British newspaper The Observer headlined "Ethiopian leader accused over human rights," which included accounts of alleged human rights abuses in the wake of election protests.
On June 23, the Ministry of Information suspended publication of the English-language weekly The Sub-Saharan Informer on the pretext that the paper had not informed the Ministry of Information of its change of office address, which it had done twice in writing. The paper was granted permission to resume publication on August 18.
On February 10, the government issued the first broadcasting licenses allowing two private radio stations to operate in the country. By year's end neither of the two stations was operational. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency (EBA) said it had selected the two stations, Zami Public Connections and Tensae Fine Arts, from among 12 contenders on the basis of their financial status and proposed program content.
In August the Southern Regional State announced plans to begin radio broadcasts by launching six FM stations. Also in August, EBA issued a license for a community radio station, the Kori Community Radio, in the Southern Regional State.
On August 25, EBA issued a commercial license to the ruling EPRDF party-affiliated Radio Fana. Radio Ethiopia sold broadcasting time to private groups and individuals who wanted to air programs and commercials.
The Addis Ababa City Administration Mass Media Agency continued its five-hour Amharic FM broadcast as well as a three-hour local television program broadcast twice daily from the capital city.
The government operated the sole television station and tightly controlled news broadcasts. The broadcasting law prohibits political and religious organizations from owning broadcast stations. The law also prohibits foreign ownership.
There were restrictions on access to international news broadcasts during the year. VOA broadcast signals were subject to intentional jamming. The government permitted ownership of private satellite receiving dishes; however, high costs and the limited capacity of the sole telecommunications entity, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation, effectively restricted access to this technology.
The government continued to use statutory provisions on the publication of false information, incitement of ethnic hatred and libel to justify the arrest and detention of journalists. Along with opposition party members, 16 journalists were charged with treason, genocide, and attempts to subvert the constitution, charges which carry maximum penalties of life in prison or the death penalty.
In November 2005 five VOA journalists were included in a group of CUD leaders, members of civil society, and journalists charged with treason and attempting to subvert the constitution. On March 23, following pressure from foreign governments, the federal high court dropped the charges of treason and genocide against the VOA journalists and 13 others.
Between December 2005 and May, several journalists were convicted on charges stemming from news stories published as long ago as 1998, including libel, publishing false news, failing to print the name of the deputy editor in the newspaper, defaming the government, and misinformation. Prison sentences ranged from three months to 18 months. Some of the sentenced journalists were released from jail on bail after being detained for a few weeks or months. Bail amounts ranged from $56 to $1,260 (487 to 10,962 birr). The journalists released on bail earlier in the year had court appearances in October and November.
On November 10, Getachew Sime, former editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic language weekly, Agere, appeared in court to appeal his December 2005 defamation conviction and three-month prison sentence. The Federal Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
Leykun Engeda, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Amharic language weekly Dagim Wonchif, was granted $116 (1,000 birr) bail on January 5, after he appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. In November his appeal was rejected and he was sent to Kaliti Prison. The case against Engeda stemmed from a 1999 article in Dagim Wonchif about a rebel organization known as the Ethiopian Patriotic Front, alleging that the rebels had won a military victory against government soldiers. Dagim Wonchif went out of business, ostensibly due to problems encountered in obtaining newsprint.
On February 21, Arega Wolde Kirkos, editor-in-chief of the private Amharic language weekly, Tobia, was arrested on defamation charges. After appealing to the Federal Supreme Court for the charges against him to be dropped, he was released on bail of approximately $110 (1,000 birr). Arega appeared in court in November and the charges against him were dropped.
On March 8, Abraham Gebre Kidan, editor of the now-defunct Amharic-language weekly, Politika, was sentenced to one year in prison for publishing "false news" in a 2002 report attributed to the BBC, which claimed that the government was training rebels in neighboring Eritrea. Kidan was subsequently released on bail of approximately $110 (1,000 birr). He appeared in court in November, at which time the charge against him was dropped and he was released.
Two journalists indicted on old charges, Wossonseged Gebrekidan and Tesehalene Mengesha, remained in prison at year's end. On April 18, Wossonseged Gebrekidan, editor-in-chief of the now banned Addis Zena, was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment for defamation stemming from a 2002 article that allegedly defamed the editor of Abiotawi Democracy, a publication of the ruling EPRDF. At the time of his sentencing, Gebrekidan was already in jail on anti-government charges as one of fourteen journalists on trial along with opposition leaders and members of civil society for allegedly trying to overthrow the constitutional order.
On April 25, Abraham Retta, a journalist who freelanced for a number of different Amharic-language newspapers, and worked as a columnist for the private Amharic weekly Addis Admas, was sentenced on April 25 to one year and jailed the same day. Retta was charged for an article in the now-defunct private Amharic newspaper, Ruh, reporting that government officials had embezzled World Bank assistance funds in 2002. Retta appealed his sentence to the Federal Supreme Court; he appeared in court in November and his case was postponed and remained pending at year's end.
On May 4, Tesehalene Mengesha, former editor of the defunct Amharic-language weekly, Mebruk, was convicted of criminal defamation and sentenced to 16 months in prison. Mengesha also faced additional pending charges for "spreading false information" related to a report in the then private Amharic-language weekly, Mebrek, on the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he arrived in Addis Ababa in 1995 to attend a summit of the Organization of African Unity.
On February 19, Goshu Moges, journalist and manager of the opposition private Amharic-language weekly newspaper Lissane Hizb was arrested in what police described as a "crackdown on terrorists linked to Ethiopia's opposition parties." Moges was charged with seeking to "overthrow, modify, or suspend the constitution." He was denied bail and remained in custody at year's end. Lissane Hizb was not explicitly banned by the government but remained unable to publish since November 2005, due to arrests of the paper's leadership and fear of arrest on the part of the remaining staff.
On May 4, Tesehalene Mengesha, former editor of the defunct Amharic-language weekly, Mebruk, was convicted of criminal defamation and sentenced to 16 months in prison. The case stemmed from an article published in Mebruk during the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean border war. Mengesha had previously been jailed at least three times between 1997 and 2000 in connection with his work for Mebruk.
Eskinder Nega, editor of the newspaper Satenaw and one of the 16 journalists being tried with the CUD leadership, was kept in a separate prison in solitary confinement. Nega's partner, journalist Serkalem Fassil, was also arrested and detained at Kaliti prison. Another of the 16 journalists imprisoned on treason charges, Sisay Agena, publisher of the weekly newspaper Ethiop, was also moved to Kerchele prison in August and kept in a dark cell (see section 1.d.).
In January 2005 authorities arrested Shiferaw Insermu, a journalist with the Oromo-language service of the state-owned Ethiopian Television (ETV), for the third time, at the central criminal investigation office prison in Addis Ababa. Insermu and fellow ETV journalist Dhabassa Wakjira, who was arrested in April 2004, remained in detention on several charges, including passing government information to the OLF leadership. Prison authorities ignored various court orders to free them.
Police asked Addis Zena editor-in-chief Fassil Yenealem to disclose his sources for two stories, including a May 2005 article reporting that the ruling EPRDF had established a special intelligence force to arrest and assassinate CUD leaders, and had recruited 11 Tigrayan women to poison CUD leaders. Yenealem did not reveal his sources and was subsequently arrested for publishing a story that could not be corroborated. Yenealem was released on bail later in 2005 but was one of the journalists detained along with the CUD leadership on anti-state crimes. He remained in prison at year's end.
In June 2005 government security forces detained Addis Ababa newspaper distributor Fikre Gudu and held him for one month. After his release, he gave an interview to the private Amharic-language weekly Asqual discussing his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in a detention center outside the capital. He described poor prison conditions and criticized the government for jailing him. Authorities detained him again in August 2005; they released him on bail after four days in police detention. During his latest detention, police accused Gudu of using the interview to spread false information and to defame the police and prison system. No information was available on whether the case against Gudu was still pending.
All official media received government subsidies; however, the official media were legally autonomous and responsible for their own management and partial revenue generation. The minister of information was the government's official spokesperson, and the ministry managed contacts between the government, the press, and the public; however, the government routinely refused to respond to queries from the private press and often limited its cooperation with the press to the government-run Ethiopian News Agency, the EPRDF-controlled Walta news agency, and correspondents of international news organizations.
Unlike in previous years, the prime minister's office allowed some members of the independent press limited access to official events. On April 30, for only the second time in 14 years, members of the independent press were invited to join state media and foreign correspondents in covering a press conference given by the prime minister. Later in the year, journalists from local English-language independent newspapers were invited to a press conference that had been opened to foreign correspondents. Independent journalists were also invited along with foreign correspondents to attend a press conference by the prime minster on Somalia in December.
The Ministry of Information required that newspapers maintain a bank balance of $1,150 (10,000 birr) when annually registering for a publishing license. This sum effectively precluded some smaller publications from registering. Authorities also required permanent residency for publishers to establish and operate a newspaper. The government did not require residency for other business owners, and some independent journalists maintained that the government used the residency requirement as a form of intimidation. The press law requires all publishers to provide free copies of their publications to the Ministry of Information on the day of publication.
The majority of private newspapers as well as government newspapers printed their publications on government owned presses. Following the unrest in November 2005, presses frequently refused to print some papers, citing Ministry of Justice statements indicating that presses would be held responsible for content they printed. Police had the authority to shut down any printing press without a court order but during the year did not exercise that power.
The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) remained in disarray following the crackdown on the private press. Several journalists remained in exile, including EFJA president Kifle Mulat. His name was on the list of journalists being sought by the government for their involvement in what the government called treason and attempted genocide. The detention of most of its members effectively halted the EFJA's operation. Another association, the Ethiopian National Union of Journalists, established with the support of the government, was inactive during the year.
Internet Freedom
Beginning in mid-May, several "blogs" (Internet journals) and media watchdog groups alleged that the government had begun blocking various websites that displayed content critical of the government. This was corroborated by members of the general public in Addis Ababa. Blocked websites included the site of the Oromo Liberation Front and several news blogs and sites run by the Ethiopian diaspora, including the Ethiopian Review, CyberEthiopia.com, Quatero Amharic Magazine, Tensae Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Media Forum. The Committee to Protect Journalists and others called upon the government to stop blocking these sites. Officials at the Ministry of Information claimed that they had no explanation or information about the sudden inaccessibility of the blogs, and denied that the government was responsible.
In December 2005 Elias Kifle, the publisher of web-based Ethiopian Review, was charged in absentia with treason. Frezer Negash, an Addis Ababa-based correspondent for the website, was imprisoned without charge from January 27 to March 8.
CPJ noted that the government's crackdown on the traditional print media and the resulting widespread self-censorship in the press had spurred many local journalists and social and political activists to use the Internet.
On December 24, Capital, a private English-language newsweekly reported that the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency was distributing forms for Internet cafes in the country and requiring them to register their internet users. Sources told Capital that the telecomunications agency was working with the federal police to distribute the forms to all Internet cafes in Addis Ababa and other major towns in order to identify illegal users. Sources said that if an Internet cafe was found serving unregistered customers its owners would be jailed.
Media reported that citizens used the Internet frequently and consistently and that access had increased through the proliferation of Internet cafes. Voice-over-Internet-Protocol technology also became increasingly popular for communicating with family and friends overseas. Capital reported that the number of Internet users in Addis Ababa in late 2004 was estimated at 100,000. Approximately 94 percent of the country's Internet users lived in Addis Ababa; this was an indication of the relative lack of telecommunications infrastructure outside of the capital. Capital also reported that the telecommunications corporation has made it easier and more affordable for home users to subscribe to dial-up Internet service. By year's end the country had 40,000 home-based Internet subscribers.
Mobile phone text messaging remained blocked by the state telecommunications monopoly following claims that the opposition CUD had used text messaging to call for and coordinate antigovernment actions.
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