2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010
Ethiopia is a federal republic led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. The population is estimated at 77 million. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the EPRDF won a majority of seats to remain the ruling party for a third consecutive five-year term. In local and by-elections held in April 2008, the EPRDF and allied parties took virtually all of the more than three million open seats contested nationwide. Prior to the vote, ruling coalition agents and supporters used coercive tactics and manipulation of the electoral process, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Political parties were predominantly ethnically based, and opposition parties remained splintered. During the year fighting between government forces, including local militias, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an ethnically based, nationalist, insurgent movement operating in the Somali Region, resulted in continued allegations of human rights abuses, particularly diversion of food aid from intended beneficiaries suffering from a severe drought. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were numerous instances in which elements within those forces acted independently of government authority.
Human rights abuses reported during the year included unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with evident impunity; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; police, administrative and judicial corruption; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens' privacy rights, including illegal searches; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counterinsurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists; restrictions on freedom of assembly and 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, including harassment of union leaders.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Security forces committed arbitrary and politically motivated killings during the year.
Government forces, including militias, and armed elements of the ONLF were responsible for targeted killings in the Somali region during the year (see section 1.g.).
On January 7, local police shot and killed Debasu Yengusie Mengesha and teacher Gobeze Wudu, residents of Yetnora kebele (neighborhood) in the Amhara Region while they were leaving a bar. The perpetrators were detained and remained under investigation at year's end.
On February 25, students at Gedo Secondary School (West Shoa Zone, Oromiya region) found a flier containing hateful remarks about Oromos. When the school principal delayed in investigating the case, Oromo students refused to attend classes and demonstrated inside the school compound. The principal called local police, who ordered students to disperse. When they refused, police shot and killed Wendimu Damena, a 19-year-old student. Another student, 20-year-old Belay Motuma, was shot in the chest and remained hospitalized at year's end. Two students, Berecha Folesa and Tamari Melaku Weyesa, were arrested during the demonstration and were released on bail on March 9. On March 17, six school administration employees and one agricultural bureau employee, all of whom were opposition Oromo People's Congress (OPC) candidates in the 2008 local elections, were arrested and charged with inciting violence. The case remained pending at year's end.
In October 2008 local police and militia in Zeba kebele (Dejen woreda, East Gojam zone, Amhara Region) shot and killed three brothers--Yayeh Yirad Assefa, Negusu Assefa, and Temesgen Assefa. The brothers were reportedly suspected of killing a militiaman from Najima kebele on the same date. There was no official investigation into the incident.
There were no developments in the July 2008 killing of opposition political party All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP) supporter Aschalew Taye.
In 2007 Welelaw Muche, a supporter of the former opposition party Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) in Enamrit town (West Gojjam zone, Mecha woreda, Amhara region) was shot and killed, reportedly by a government militiaman. On May 6, a government newspaper acknowledged the death but said that the killer remained unknown.
According to a May government report, Tamene Tadesse, Gue town security chief, was charged with use of excessive force and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the 2007 fatal shootings of two students in Gue town (Oromiya region).
There were no developments in any cases of other 2007 killings.
Addis Ababa and other areas experienced bombings that killed civilians during the year. Although no one claimed responsibility, the government charged the bombings were the work of insurgent groups or agents of Eritrea. On April 14, a land mine exploded in the Danakil Depression area of the Afar Region, killing two persons and wounding two. The government claimed the South Red Sea Rebel Liberation Front was responsible, although this remained unconfirmed.
There were no developments in the following 2008 bombing cases: the Humera public bus bombing; the Humera school explosion; the Addis Ababa gas station bombing; the minibus bombing allegedly committed by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF); the bombing of two hotels in Negele Borena, Oromiya region; the Merkato bombing; and the Jijiga hotel bombing.
On December 15, two hand grenades thrown into a crowded cafe in Kebri Dehar town, Somali region, killed one woman and wounded nine. The government claimed the perpetrators were four Eritreans supporting the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front. Perpetrators are in police custody pending investigation.
Clashes between ethnic clans during the year resulted in hundreds of deaths (see section 6).
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances.
In February 2008, Alexander Gebre Meskel, a 40-year-old resident of Kirkos subcity, Addis Ababa, disappeared. He previously reported to his family that he was being followed by security forces. His whereabouts remained unknown at year's end.
There were no developments in the 2008 disappearances of Ethiopian Teacher's Association members Tilahun Ayalew and Anteneh Getnet.
There were no developments in the following reported 2007 disappearances: Yohannes Woldu Girma Tesfaye Ayana, Befekadu Bulti Merri, Mulatu Gebremichel, Ismail Blatta, Daniel Worku, and Amha Yirga.
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 tortured, beat, and mistreated detainees. Opposition political party leaders reported frequent and systematic abuse and intimidation of their supporters by police and regional militias.
Numerous reliable sources confirmed that in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions. Several political prisoners who were held at Maekelawi and other nontraditional detention facilities independently alleged in credible detail that they and other detainees were tortured in police station jails in attempts by security officials to elicit confessions before their cases went to trial. Abuses reportedly include being blindfolded and hung by the wrists for several hours, bound by chains and beaten, held in solitary confinement for several days to weeks or months, subjected to mental torture such as harassment and humiliation, forced to stand for more than 16 hours, and having heavy objects hung from the genitalia. The government generally denied reports of torture in detention centers and did not respond to specific reports of abuse.
Several of the defendants in the Ginbot Seven trial, who were arrested on April 24 and charged with attempting to engage in terrorist activities, reported harsh physical abuse and torture during pretrial interrogations. On November 13, defendants reported to the court that they were tortured by prison guards. A government spokesman denied the allegations. In December the Federal High Court convicted 40 defendants, pronouncing death sentences on Berhanu Nega, Muluneh Eyoel, Andargachew Tsige), Mesfin Aman (all charged in absentia), and Melaku Teferra.
The court pronounced life sentences on 33 convicted defendants: Alehubel Amare (charged in abstentia); Yaregal Yimam (charged in abstentia); Dan (full name not available; charged in abstentia); Aweke Afewerk (charged in abstentia); Dereje Habtewold (charged in abstentia); Daniel Assefa (charged in abstentia); Chekol Getahun (charged in abstentia); Efrem Madebo (charged in abstentia); Fasil Yenealem (charged in abstentia) Brigadier General Teferra Mamo; Asamnew Tsige; Tsige Habtemaryam; Mengistu Abebe; Lt. Col. Solomon Ashagre; Lt. Col. Alemu Getenet; Major Mesekere Kassa; Lt. Col. Getachew Berele; Captain Temesgen Bayleyegn; Getu Worku; Lt. Col. Fantahun Muhaba; Lt. Col. Abere Asefa; Major Misganaw Tessema; Yeshiwas Mengesha; Emawayish Alemu; Lt. Col. Demsew Anteneh; Yeshiwas Mitiku; Gobena Belay; Amerar Bayabil; Goshirad Tsegaw; Wudneh Temesgen; Yibeltal Birhanu; Major Mekonen Worku; Kifle Sinshaw.
The court sentenced two convicted defendants--Major Adugna Alemayehu and Major Adefris Asaminew--who had pled guilty to 10 years in a maximum security prison and deprivation of civil rights for four years.
There were no developments in the February 2008 beating of Gelaye Tadele while in local police custody in Arba Minch town of the Southern Nations region.
There were no developments in the 2007 case of Ayena Cheri, who was arrested on suspicion of being a member of the OLF and who has alleged repeated severe beatings while in detention.
Nine of the 37 CUD members arrested and tortured in 2006 remained in prison at year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The country has three federal and 117 regional prisons. There are several unofficial detention centers operating throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. Most are located at military camps and were allegedly used as overflow detention centers following mass arrests.
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common, especially in sleeping quarters. The government provided approximately eight birr ($0.60) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care. Many prisoners supplemented this with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional prisons. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities.
While statistics were unavailable, there were some deaths in prison due to illness and poor health care. Prison officials were not forthcoming about reports of such deaths. Several pardoned political prisoners had serious health problems in detention but received little treatment. In Shashamene Correctional Facility, four inmates died during an epidemic in 2008 due to lack of medical attention, according to a report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
In December 2008 the EHRC reported there were 80,974 persons in prison, of whom 2,123 were women and 487 were children detained with their mothers. Juveniles were often incarcerated with adults, sometimes with adults who were awaiting execution. Men and women prisoners were generally, but not always, separated. Authorities generally permitted visitors but sometimes arbitrarily denied visit requests. In some cases family visits to political prisoners were restricted to a few per year. Pretrial detainees were often held together with convicted prisoners.
During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited regional prisons only but remained barred from visiting any sites in the Somali region. The government continued to prevent ICRC representatives from visiting police stations and federal prisons throughout the country including those where opposition, civil society, and media leaders were held. Regional authorities allowed the ICRC to meet regularly with prisoners without third parties being present. The ICRC also continued to visit civilian Eritrean nationals and local citizens of Eritrean origin detained on alleged national security grounds.
The local nongovernmental (NGO) Prison Fellowship Ethiopia (JFA-PFE) was granted access to various prison and detention facilities, including federal prisons. JFA-PFE operated a "model" prison in Adama with significantly better conditions compared with other prisons. JFA-PFE reported that the government was supportive of their efforts. The government also periodically granted diplomatic missions access to regional prisons and prison officials, subject to advance notification.
During the year the government established regional "Justice Forums" throughout the country to improve coordination among the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Regional Security, and the Prison Administration. The government increased the budget allocated for constructing new prisons to alleviate overcrowding.
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 is subordinate to the parliament; however, this subordination is loose in practice. Local militias also operated as local security forces largely independent of the police and military. Corruption remained a problem, particularly among traffic police who routinely solicited bribes. Impunity also remained a serious problem. According to sources at government agencies, the government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detentions and beatings of civilians. The federal police acknowledged that many of its members as well as regional police lacked professionalism. In July the Addis Ababa Police Commission fired 444 staff members, including high-ranking officials, for involvement in serious crimes including armed robbery, rape, and theft. There were no prosecutions of those dismissed.
The government continued efforts to train police and army recruits in human rights. During the year the government continued to seek assistance from the ICRC, JFA-PFE, and EHRC to improve and professionalize its human-rights training and curriculum by including more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions. JFA-PFE conducted human rights training for police commissioners and members of the militia.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in 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 brought to court and charged within 48 hours, this generally was not respected in practice. While there was a functioning bail system, it was not available in murder, treason, and corruption cases. In most cases authorities set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($40 and $800), which was too costly for most citizens. 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 and for additional 14-day periods if an investigation continues. The law prohibits detention in any facilities other than an official detention center; however, there were dozens of unofficial local detention centers used by local government militia and other formal and informal law enforcement entities. 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. Police continued to enter private residences and arrest individuals without warrants (see section 1.f.). Opposition party members consistently and credibly reported that in small towns, authorities detained persons in police stations for long periods without charge or 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.
On April 24, security officials detained 32 persons allegedly affiliated with Ginbot Seven, an external opposition group, for their suspected involvement in a terrorist assassination plot. Those charged included several current and retired army officers, including two generals, along with senior opposition political figures. Those detained were held for more than a month without charges while police gathered evidence, during which time family members were not informed of their whereabouts. The detainees were denied pretrial access to legal counsel, and several alleged mistreatment while in detention. On August 6, the Federal High Court found 13 other defendants guilty in absentia, one not guilty in absentia, and the 32 who were detained were ordered to present their defense cases. Of the 32, the court acquitted five defendants on November 19. On December 22, the court sentenced 40 Ginbot Seven defendants: five to death, 33 to life terms, and two to 10 years' imprisonment.
On May 27, customs authorites detained Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) chairman and prominent human rights lawyer Abebe Worke and Voice Of America (VOA) reporter Meleskachew Amha for allegedly attempting to illegally sell imported duty-free publishing equipment that belonged to Addis Broadcasting Company (ABC), of which both were shareholders (see section 2.a.). Meleskachew and Abebe were detained at the Customs Authority compound, not a formal detention facility, for 12 days before being released on bail. Abebe fled the country for fear of persecution. On July 15, the Federal First Instance Court dropped all charges against Meleskachew due to lack of evidence. Abebe was sentenced in absentia to one year's imprisonment and fined 1.4 million birr ($112,000).
ABC General Manager Amelework Tadesse and three others were arrested on the same date. Amelework was charged with attempting to illegally sell duty-free equipment to a third party. The other cases were dropped due to lack of evidence. Amelework's case was pending at year's end.
On June 1, Werebabo woreda, Bistima, town officials (South Wollo zone, Amhara region) arrested EHRCO investigator Mulugeta Fentaw. Mulugeta was returning home after investigating alleged cases of harassment of opposition political party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) members in Bistima town. While waiting at a bus stop, Werebabo woreda Security Chief Makonnen Hussein confiscated Mulugeta's notebook, which contained sensitive summaries of his interviews. Immediately thereafter, police accused Mulugeta of stealing 2,000 birr ($160) and arrested him. At the police station he was searched, and when police found only 200 birr ($16) in his possession, they modified the charge to claim that he stole only 200 birr ($16). Mulugeta was arrested and jailed for three days. He was brought to the woreda court on June 3, where he was convicted and sentenced to eight months' imprisonment. He appealed to the zonal high court. On July 17, the high court dismissed the case, stating that such acts by the woreda court eroded public confidence in the judiciary. The woreda administration appealed and brought another charge of "tarnishing the reputation of woreda officials by bringing false witnesses." Mulugeta again appealed to the high court, which dismissed the case.
One of Mulugeta's defense witnesses, Alemu Abaineh, was arrested a couple of days after testifying in court. He was accused of stealing and carrying antitank grenades and plotting to attack the militia. He was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. He appealed to the high court and was released on bail. The trial continued at year's end.
According to government reports, of those opposition AEUP members arrested at a Chendiba wedding in 2008, Wagnew Tadesse, Demissie Yehualla, Kolagie Jegne, Teffera Akemu, and Setegne Tadege were released, while Mekuanent Seneshaw, Alehegne Mekuanent, Kifle Tadege, and Endale Tadege remained in prison at year's end, charged with holding an illegal political gathering in the form of a wedding.
There were no developments in the 2007 case in which Kenyan authorities turned over to the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) 150 suspected fighters in Somalia, at least 10 of whom remained in ENDF custody.
In October 2008 officials arrested at least 53 ethnic Oromos (possibly as many as 200) for alleged support of the banned OLF. Of the 53 persons arrested, 38 were released, and the cases of the remaining 15 were pending at year's end.
In 2007 security forces arrested approximately 450 individuals, many of whom were opposition party members, suspected of supporting the OLF or carrying out terrorist activity. Of the 148 who remained in jail at the end of 2008, 35 were sentenced during the year to four to 14 years' imprisonment, while the remaining 113 were released.
Following a 2008 investigation on prison conditions, the EHRC reported that the overwhelming majority of detainees in prisons were held on pending charges. For example, only 10 percent of prisoners in Gambella prison had been convicted and 46 percent of those in Addis Ababa. Some prisoners reported being detained for several years without being charged and without trial. A lack of modern record-keeping systems resulted in prisoners sometimes not benefiting from parole and not receiving credit for time served.
In May the director general of the Federal Police reported that 65 percent of the 45,000 criminal cases filed at the federal first instance court in 2008 were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence or witnesses.
On September 10, regional authorities in the Amhara and Oromiya regions granted amnesty to 9,612 prisoners.
On October 5, the government granted amnesty to 384 prisoners based on a recommendation from the National Pardon Board.
On December 15, the government granted amnesty to 10 leaders and members of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy based on a recommendation from the National Pardon Board.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with independence, the criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to significant political intervention and influence. Constitutional interpretation remains solely the responsibility of the upper house of parliament, consisting exclusively of ruling party members, which also handles judicial appointments and reviews judicial conduct. In practice courts have discretion to convict defendants on charges not raised by the prosecution.
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 matters, and national security. The regional judiciary was increasingly autonomous.
Regional offices of the federal MOJ 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. Because of this, many citizens residing in rural areas did not have reasonable access to the federal judicial system at any level and were effectively forced to rely on traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms such as the Elders' Councils. Several women complained of lack of access to free and fair hearings in the traditional justice system because they were excluded from participation in the Elders' Councils and because there was strong gender discrimination in rural areas.
Some local officials believed they were not accountable to a higher authority.
The judicial system severely lacked experienced staff, sometimes making the application of the law unpredictable. The government continued to train lower court judges and prosecutors and made effective judicial administration the primary focus of the training. To address overcrowding, in October the government allocated 147 million birr ($11.76 million ) to construct five new courthouses in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa.
In the country's judicial system, there are federal and regional criminal courts. There are federal first instance courts, high courts, and the Supreme Court. There are also regional first instance courts and high courts. The Supreme Court maintains appellate authority over all courts.
The law provides legal standing to some preexisting religious and traditional courts and allows federal and regional legislatures to recognize decisions of such courts. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party can appeal to a regular court at any time. 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. These customary 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, headed by three judges, handled cases involving juvenile offenses and cases of sexual abuse of women and children. There was a large backlog of juvenile cases, and accused children often remained in detention with adults until officials heard their cases. There were also credible reports that domestic violence and rape cases were often significantly delayed and given low priority.
On July 7, the parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to address growing terrorist threats. Several human rights organizations raised concerns over the law's broad definition of terrorism, severe penalties, broad rules of evidence, and discretionary powers afforded police and security forces.
Criminal matters related to the military are handled by military tribunals. Military tribunals may not try civilians except in cases of national security. The military justice system lacked adequately trained staff to handle a growing caseload.
On November 10, the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Judge Girma Tiku, former president of the First Instance Court for Urban Affairs of Lideta subcity, Addis Ababa, to seven years' imprisonment and a fine of 1,000 birr ($80) on corruption charges.
There were no developments in the two 2008 MOJ corruption cases against judges.
According to the law, accused persons have the right to a fair public trial by a court of law within a "reasonable time," a presumption of innocence, the right to be represented by legal counsel of their choice, and the right to appeal. However, in contrast with previous years and in limited cases, closed proceedings took place, and at times authorities allowed detainees little or no contact with legal counsel The court system does not practice trial by juries. In principle those charged have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Judicial inefficiency, lengthy trial delays, and lack of qualified staff often resulted in serious delays in trial proceedings. The Federal High Court remained open for a month and a half during its regular recess period in August and September to try to reduce the backlog of cases. The Public Defender's Office provides legal counsel to indigent defendants, although its scope and quality of service remained limited due to the shortage of attorneys. Although the law explicitly stipulates that persons charged with corruption are to be shown the evidence against them prior to their trials, several credible sources reported that authorities routinely denied defense counsel pretrial access to such evidence. The government did not establish an execution date for the 19 former Derg officials sentenced to death in 2006 for crimes of genocide, treason, and murder. All remained on death row at year's end, except Colonel Mengistu, who was in exile in Zimbabwe. According to a May government report, religious leaders requested that the government reduce the sentences of former Derg officials. The government had not responded at year's end.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Domestic and international NGOs estimated there were several hundred political prisoners and detainees. There were numerous credible reports of unlawful detention of opposition candidates and their supporters.
In September several opposition party leaders reported an intensification of arrests of opposition supporters, especially in the Oromiya and Amhara regions. Opposition parties published lists of members and supporters arrested in the past three months, including more than 360 in the Oromiya region and 230 in the Amhara region.
On July 4, Nimona Tuffa, a student at Hayume Medical College in Ambo and an opposition OPC member, was picked up by Oromiya Regional Security officials dressed in civilian clothes in Guder town. Nimona reported that security officials, including Head of Security of West Shoa Zone Tesfaye Sime, beat him, first in a nearby forest and later at the Ambo Oromo People's Democratic Organization (part of the EPRDF coalition) office, where they pressured him to sign a statement admitting he was a member of the OLF. He eventually signed. When released, Nimona was hospitalized for severe nerve-ending damage, hearing damage, and back injuries. The case was raised with the government, but no action had been taken at year's end.
In November 2008 Lema Merga, Secretary General of OPC in Southwest Shoa zone (Oromiya Region, central Ethiopia), reported he was picked up by local security officials from Wolisso town without a warrant and transported 54 miles) to Sebeta town, where he was detained. He was released on November 21 without ever appearing in court.
In mid-October 2008 approximately 20 persons, including prominent Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) member Makonnin Dheressa, were arrested and placed under the custody of the Federal Army at the Army Camp in Dembe Dollo. All were released before year's end.
In late October/early November 2008, police, local authorities, and ruling party cadres arrested 16 second-tier leaders from various opposition parties engaged in community outreach or opening new offices throughout the country. On August 12, one of the defendants was found not guilty, and the remaining 15 were ordered to present their defenses. Their cases remained pending at year's end. For example, OFDM secretary general Bekele Jirata was charged with recruiting and organizing OLF members, promoting OLF terrorist activities, and financially supporting the OLF. Bekele Jirata was released on bail on February 4, but his case was pending at the end of the year.
There was no development in the March 2008 arrest of opposition CUD supporter Chaka Robi. He remained in police custody at year's end. No charges were known to have been filed.
Popular singer Tewodros Kassahun (known as Teddy Afro) appealed his 2006 manslaughter conviction, and the court reduced his sentence from six to two years. He was released from prison on August 13. Some of Tewodros' songs were critical of the government.
Opposition UDJ party president Birtukan Mideksa, whose pardon was revoked and life sentence reinstated in December 2008, remained in prison throughout the year. She was held in solitary confinement until June, despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights. She was also denied access to visitors except for a few close family members, despite a court order granting visitor access without restrictions. There were credible reports that Birtukan's mental health deteriorated significantly during the year.
At year's end several hundred other political detainees, including CUD, ONLF, and OLF members, remained in prison.
In 2007 the government pardoned 71 individuals arrested following demonstrations in 2005. The pardons permitted the defendants' future political participation, but in practice the government continued to limit that right.
Of the 52 individuals arrested in 2006-07 for alleged membership in the insurgent Ethiopian Patriotic Front, 48 were sentenced during the year to one to 15 years' imprisonment, three died while in prison awaiting trial, and one was acquitted.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Civil courts, which provided judicial remedy for alleged wrongs, were generally viewed as independent and impartial. The law provides citizens the right to appeal human rights violations in civil court; however, no such cases were filed during the year.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law requires authorities to obtain judicial warrants to search private property; however, in practice, particularly outside Addis Ababa, police often ignored this law. Opposition party representatives claimed that police sometimes used fraudulent search warrants to enter homes and commit criminal acts, including extorting money. There were reports that members of local militias robbed persons during the year in locations throughout Oromiya.
There continued to be reports of police forcibly entering civilian homes throughout the year.
For example, on April 16, Tirch kebele (Dejen woreda, Amahara region) and woreda officials searched the house of Waltenegus Abate, vice chairman of the AEUP in that woreda, without a warrant. Although officials accused him of hiding armaments, none were found. Before leaving, local police reportedly beat his seven- and 12-year-old daughters while inquiring about his whereabouts and fired shots into the air. Waltenegus has been in hiding since May. This incident marked the second attack against Waltengus' family. In November 2008 kebele officials and woreda police reportedly abducted Waltenegus and tied his hands while he was herding cattle, searched his house without a warrant, found an AEUP card, beat him with rifle butts, and threatened to kill him if he did not stop accusing woreda police of torturing persons.
In July 2008 at 6 p.m., reliable reports established that, police, Bahir Dar City Administration, and kebele officials unlawfully searched the house of Yeshi Tekle-Giorgis, resident of kebele 13 of Bahir Dar town, following a disagreement with her landlord. The officials tried to force her to vacate the house, but she told them she could not vacate the house so late in the day. One of the police officers grabbed her and allegedly tried to strangle her with the scarf she was wearing. He then pushed her, and she fell down and fractured her arm. She reported the case, but no action was taken against the police officer who attacked her.
In November 2008, police and local militia reportedly searched the house of Tiringo Mengist without a warrant, a resident of Tirch kebele (Dejen wereda, Amhara region), and accused her of aiding and abetting bandits. She denied the accusation, and one of the police officers allegedly hit Tiringo with his rifle butt on her side while another police officer repeatedly hit her with a club. She reported the abuse to a local human rights organization. No action was taken against the police officers.
All but three electronic communications facilities are state owned. Political party leaders reported incidents of telephone tapping and other electronic eavesdropping. In May a former employee of ETC, the state-run monopoly telecom and Internet provider, reported from self-imposed exile that the government had ordered ETC employees to unlawfully record citizens' private telephone conversations.
The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals.
Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government. Kebele officials have been reported to go from house to house demanding that residents attend ruling coalition meetings. Residents are not arrested or harassed if they do not attend party meetings; however, those persons who do not attend party meetings reportedly have difficulty obtaining basic public services from their kebeles. Reliable reports establish that unemployed youth who are not affiliated with the ruling coalition have trouble receiving "support letters" from their kebeles necessary to get jobs, and that unaffiliated poor residents have trouble receiving subsidized wheat or other materials.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts
During the year fighting continued between government forces, including government-backed and -affiliated militia, and the ONLF, an ethnically based, nationalist, insurgent movement operating in the Ogaden area of the Somali region, triggering widespread allegations of human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict. Credible reports of human rights abuses continued, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, abductions, and arbitrary arrest by government soldiers. Deliveries of food and medicine were restricted as a result of insecurity, lack of capacity, and military restrictions.
Since it was outlawed in 1994, the ONLF has engaged in low-intensity armed conflict with the government. The regional conflict in Somalia that began in late 2006 spread to the Somali region and, allegedly fueled by support from the Eritrean government, resulted in greatly increased armed activity by the ONLF, whose members share ethnic ties with Somalis. During the year another insurgent group, the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF), had a limited presence in the region.
Since the military began significant counterinsurgency operations in the Ogaden region in response to the April 2007 slaying of Chinese and domestic oil exploration workers, the government has continued to limit the access of diplomats, NGOs, and journalists to the Somali region, citing serious security concerns. Human rights groups and others asserted that the government denied access to the region to prevent potential critics and observers from monitoring ENDF operations. The government allowed some humanitarian access but restricted the ability to investigate human rights abuses. Reports of human rights violations largely have come from interviews with second-hand sources or alleged victims who have fled the Somali region. NGO personnel have been compelled by ENDF and regular police officials to report ONLF activity and faced beatings and death threats from these entities if they did not comply. Some villagers reported that local authorities threatened to retaliate against anyone who reports ENDF abuses.
Reliable sources reported increasingly violent ONLF attacks on police and military elements during the year. Civilians, international NGOs, and other aid organizations operating in the region reported that both the ENDF and the ONLF were responsible for abuses and harsh techniques used to intimidate the civilian population. Development workers reported being frequently stopped for questioning by the ONLF. However, ONLF fighters were reported to be generally supportive of development efforts and encouraged development workers to continue their work. The UWSLF, in contrast, had a more hostile attitude towards development workers.
There were several instances of killings in internal conflicts.
In February government and rebel spokesmen reported that at least 45 persons were killed in a clash between the ONLF and the ENDF near the towns of Fik and Degehebur.
Credible sources indicated that the Special Police Forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings. In early July Special Police Forces and ONLF fighters clashed between Degehabur and Kabsidakas, and between 40 and 65 Special Police members were killed. The Special Police reportedly killed two suspected ONLF members at Degehabur town market.
In early June ONLF fighters attacked an Ethiopian Roads Authority team, burning five vehicles and kidnapping 18 workers, of whom 13 were later released; there was no information available on the remaining five. In a clash on November 10, the ONLF reported that 985 government soldiers were killed. The government denied the reports.
There were no developments in the March 2008 arrests of eight men suspected of involvement in the 2007 ONLF attack on a Chinese-run oil facility in the Somali region that killed 65 civilians and nine Chinese nationals.
In November 2008 police forces attempted to force villagers from Laare and Puldeng villages (Gambella region) to move to a new area. When villagers refused, violence ensued, and police reportedly killed nine civilians and wounded 23. Two police officers were killed and six others were wounded. Police also reportedly set fire to homes and killed numerous livestock. Gambella Deputy Police Commissioner Mulugeta Ruot Kuon gave a different account. According to him, police responded to a clash between two Nuer groups and tried to facilitate a negotiation. One group started beating the police with sticks and shot one officer, triggering a gunfight that killed one police officer and four civilians and wounded 27. The conflict spread to eight kebeles, and federal police and the ENDF came to the region to calm the fighting. Traditional conflict resolution approaches facilitated by elders were used to resolve the conflict. At year's end the government had not responded to ONLF accusations that the ENDF killed 48 civilians in Mooyaha village and six civilians in Galashe in the Ogaden region in December 2008.
In September 2008 an unknown armed group kidnapped two foreign staff members of the French NGO Medecins du Monde near Shilabo town in the Somali region. On August 1, the two staff members were released unharmed in Mogadishu.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture
International rights groups and NGOs reported that alleged unlawful killings, torture, rape, abductions, and arbitrary arrests continued in the conflict zone in the Ogaden. While there were numerous reports of human rights violations in the conflict-affected areas, there were no successful attempts at substantiating the reports due to lack of access to the region.
There were continued reports of violence against women. For example, one ethnic Somali woman reported that she was gang-raped by five Ethiopian soldiers in January near the town of Fik and that Ethiopian troops routinely raped young women in her village.
During the year the Somali Regional Security and Administration Office increased recruitment of Special Police Forces and local militias in conflict zones. Both government forces and insurgent groups in Degehabur and Fik zones reportedly recruited children as young as 14.
Other Conflict-Related Abuses
During the year the government loosened restrictions on the delivery of food aid from donor organizations into the five zones of the Somali region in which military activity was the most intense. Approximately 83 percent of food aid reached beneficiaries, a significant improvement from the previous year. Starting in January a group of international NGOs and donors attempted to work with the Somali Regional Government to establish standard operating procedures to ensure access to the region, but no agreement had been reached by year's end. NGOs operating in the region depended on permission from local militia and the ENDF to deliver humanitarian assistance. Commercial traffic into these zones somewhat increased.
The government restricted access of NGO workers and journalists to affected areas. International journalists who entered the Somali region without permission of the government were arrested or obliged to leave the country. The government continued to ban the ICRC from the region, alleging it cooperated with the ONLF. During the year, some humanitarian groups reported roadblocks manned by insurgent groups who occasionally briefly detained them. These same humanitarian groups reportedly were interrogated by the ENDF on their encounters at the roadblocks with the insurgents.
In January 2008 the ENDF placed Medicins Sans Frontieres-Holland (MSF-NL) staff members under house arrest in Warder for allegedly providing medical support to the ONLF and confiscated MSF-CH property and vehicle keys in Kebri Dehar, limiting its staff members' movement to the town for three weeks. There was no judicial process or charges filed in the cases. MSF-NL had partial access to the Ogaden region during the year.
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 did not respect these rights in practice. The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists, publishers, and editors. The government continued to control all broadcast media except three private FM radio stations. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship.
Government-controlled media mostly reflected the views of the government and the ruling EPRDF coalition. However, live radio and television broadcasts occasionally included televised parliamentary debates and broadcast the views of opposition parliamentarians, as did government newspapers.
Although some new, small-circulation newspapers were published during the year, the number of private newspapers remained low. Approximately 20 private Amharic-language and English-language newspapers with political and business focuses were published, with a combined weekly circulation of more than 150,000.
The government operated the sole television station and tightly controlled news broadcasts. The broadcasting law prohibits political and religious organizations or foreigners from owning broadcast stations.
Foreign journalists and local stringers working for foreign publications at times published articles critical of the government but were subjected to government pressure to self-censor. During the year some reporters for foreign media were subjected to intimidation and harassment or threatened with expulsion from the country for publishing articles critical of the government.
During the year the government convicted and sentenced journalists for articles and reports in their publications. Journalists were intimidated, harassed, arrested, and detained on charges of defamation and threatening public order.
On April 16, the Government Communications Affairs Office summoned three VOA reporters--Peter Heinlein, Meleskachew Amha, and Eskinder Firew--and suspended the licenses of Meleskachew and Eskinder for three days for reasons never disclosed.
On July 9, unidentified individuals beat Addis Neger journalist Abraham Begizew, who was attempting to report on a disagreement within the leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC).
On August 24, Asrat Wedajo, former editor of the now-defunct weekly Seife Nebelbal, was convicted in connection with a 2004 story alleging human rights violations against ethnic Oromos. The Federal High Court sentenced him to one year's imprisonment based on provisions of the Press Proclamation of 1992, notwithstanding that a new media law had superceded it in December 2008.
In February 2008 police arrested Al-Quds publisher Maria Kadi Abafita, Al-Quds editor in chief Ezeddin Mohammed, and Salafia publisher and editor in chief Sheikh Ibrahim Mohammed Ali following their publication of articles critical of a Ministry of Education directive on religious worship in schools. On July 27, the Federal High Court acquitted Maria Kadi Abafita, fined Ezeddin Mohammed 10,000 birr ($800), and sentenced Ibrahim Mohammed to one year's imprisonment.
There were no developments in the March 2008 case of Dawit Kebede, editor in chief of the weekly Awramba Times, who was accused by the National Electoral Board (NEB) of violating the electoral regulations by posting an advertisement for his newspaper on a poster promoting EPRDF candidates for local elections.
There were no developments in the May 2008 case of Alemayehu Mahtemework and three staff members of the private Amharic monthly entertainment magazine Enku. The government accused them of publishing "stirring articles that could incite people" and held them for five days before release. Alemayehu was also charged with threatening public order. The magazine continued operating during the year.
In July the Federal High Court acquitted Addis Neger editor in chief Mesfin Negash of the defamation charges against him. In July 2008 the EOC had sued Mesfin for defamation in connection with the newspaper's reporting on an ongoing EOC embezzlement case. There were no developments in the August 2008 cases of Dawit Kebede and Wosseneged Gebrekidan, charged with inciting the public through false rumors for publishing articles about the Ginbot Seven, an opposition political group advocating change in the government by any means. Both were released on bail.
In August 2008 two police officers, one from Addis Ababa and the other from Gondar, arrested Amare Aregawi, editor in chief of the Amharic- and English-language newspaper The Reporter, at his office. The arrest was in connection with a private libel suit brought by the Gondar-based, ruling-party-owned Dashen Brewery in response to a July 20 Reporter story on a labor dispute at the brewery. Amare appeared in court on September 1 but learned there were no charges against him, and the bail money was returned to him. The article's author, Teshome Niku, appeared in court on July 30 and was released on bail of 300 birr ($29) on August 1. Following his release, Teshome reportedly received anonymous, threatening telephone calls and was beaten and intimidated by unidentified persons in September 2008. In January a private newspaper reported that Teshome fled to Kenya. The Dashen Brewery manager filed defamation charges against Amare on August 13. The Federal High Court 10th Criminal Bench ordered Amare to defend his case. The case continued at year's end.
In October 2008 Amare Aregawi was attacked by civilian assailants in front of his son's school. Three individuals who admitted attacking Amare appeared at the Federal High Court and testified that they were hired to attack him. Amare reported he suspected he was attacked by agents of the government or those acting with government support who were threatened by his paper's reporting on corruption. The trial continued at year's end.
Several journalists remained in self-imposed exile, including journalists detained following the 2005 elections but released in 2007.
On September 29, Ethiopian-citizen Washington Post reporter (based in Addis Ababa) Kassahun Addis fled the country due to a credible fear of persecution.
In July 2008 the parliament passed the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, published in the official Negarit Gazette in December 2008. The law prohibits pretrial detention of journalists and censorship of private media, and it recognizes the right of journalists to form professional associations. However, the law allows only incorporated entities to publish print media, requires all previously licensed press to reregister, bars foreign and crossmedia ownership, grants the government unlimited rights to prosecute the media, criminalizes defamation of public officials, increases defamation fines to 100,000 birr ($8,000), establishes "national security" as grounds for impounding materials prior to publication, provides government information officials exclusive discretion to withhold "sensitive" information without judicial review, and maintains the Communication Affairs Office's (formerly Ministry of Information--MOI) absolute authority to regulate the media.
The MOI was dissolved in October 2008. The new Communication Affairs Office reports directly to the prime minister. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) took over responsibility for press registration and oversight from the dissolved MOI. All existing newspapers and magazines were required to reregister with the EBA during the year.
In February the EBA issued a regulation barring newspaper and magazine publishers and those owning more than a 2 percent stake in a media house from holding positions of editor or deputy editor in the respective media houses.
In June the EBA ordered the private radio station Sheger-FM (102.1) to cease all rebroadcasts of VOA programming. Sheger had been broadcasting some VOA programs daily, mostly music, through a contractual agreement.
Regional governments censored the media during the year by prohibiting NGOs and health centers from providing information to, or allowing photography by, foreigners or journalists about malnutrition caused by the drought.
The government used its licensing authority to indirectly censor the media. On June 8, the Federal High Court denied an appeal and ruled that Sisay Agena, Serkalem Fasil, and Eskinder Nega could not be granted press licenses due to a 2005 court ruling that called for the dissolution of their former publishing companies. While the defendants had been acquitted of all charges and their former companies remained defunct, the High Court found that granting licenses to these individuals would be tantamount to circumventing the 2005 High Court ruling ordering the dissolution of the former companies.
On February 6, the Federal High Court dropped the monetary fines levied against the same three publishers in July 2008 for a combined amount of 300,000 birr ($24,000) in connection with their papers' coverage of the 2005 elections. They appeared in court in December 2008 and delivered a written petition citing pardon law 395/2004, article 231/2, which stipulates that pardons granted to persons automatically pertain to monetary penalties against them.
The government owned the only newspaper printing press and used its monopoly position, inter alia, to regularly increase costs to publishers.
In June 2008 Ayele Chamisso, chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party, filed charges against three private newspapers: Addis Neger, Awramba Times, and the now-defunct Soressa. Ayele claimed that the papers used his party's name for other groups. The editor of Awramba Times, Dawit Kebede, appeared in court in November 2008 on defamation charges and was released on bail of 2,000 birr ($160). He appeared in court again in December 2008. In December Ayele Chamisso asked the court to drop the charges against Awramba Times. The cases against the other two newspapers were pending at year's end.
In December Addis Neger, an Addis Ababa-based weekly often critical of government policies, ceased publishing following months of government harassment. Three staff members of Addis Neger--Abiy Tekle Mariam, Mesfin Negash, and Tamirat Negera--fled the country for fear of arrest.
The government restricted access to the Internet and blocked opposition Web sites, including the sites of the OLF, ONLF, Ginbot Seven, and several news blogs and sites run by opposition diaspora groups, such as Nazret, Ethiopian Review, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, Tensae Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.
In early March the government lifted an Internet blockade on all Ethiopian news Web sites and opposition Web sites. However, some Web sites, including nazret.com, reported being blocked again soon after.
In August 2008 a release by the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that, according to reliable sources, its servers were inaccessible to users in the country and that e-mails from the country were not coming through to the CPJ. These reports emerged at the same time the CPJ was investigating the detention of The Reporter editor Amare Aregawi. The Reporter also alleged blocking of its Web site for four days during this time. CPJ's Web site was also inaccessible at other times during the year.
As of March the ETC reported 42,707 Internet subscribers. Citizens in urban areas had ready access to Internet cafes; however, rural access remained extremely limited. Acccording to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 0.45 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet. Mobile telephone text messaging, which restarted in September 2007, remained available. The number of mobile telephone subscribers reached 3.3 million.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government restricted academic freedom during the year. Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and actively discouraged political activity and association of any kind on university campuses. Frequent reports continued of uniformed and plainclothes police officers on and around university and high school campuses. College students were reportedly pressured to pledge allegiance to the EPRDF to secure enrollment in universities or postgraduation government jobs. Non-EPRDF members were also reportedly denied teachers' benefits, transferred to undesirable posts, and restricted in promotions. There was a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from individuals in the academic community of bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion. Speech, expression, and assembly were frequently restricted on university and high school campuses.
Several elementary and high school teachers from various parts of the country complained that the government favored teachers who were members of the EPRDF in job assignment, promotion, and professional development opportunities. Teachers who were members of, or perceived to support, opposition parties--particularly in Oromiya, Tigray, Amhara, and the Southern region --reported being harassed and threatened by local officials with losing their jobs if they continued such support.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government restricted this right. Organizers of large public meetings or demonstrations must notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. The government sometimes issued permits to political parties to assemble in halls, but there were several complaints that the government threatened hall owners not to rent out halls to opposition political parties, effectively preventing them from doing so.
Opposition political parties frequently reported during the year that their supporters were targets of frequent and systematic harassment and violence by government security forces. Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, were reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings.
On August 16, the UDJ attempted to hold a town hall meeting in Adama after receiving permission from local authorities. Prior to the meeting, local authorities prevented the UDJ from displaying posters and announcing the meeting to the public. The meeting was disrupted by several shouting participants who, according to the UDJ, were an organized group of EPRDF supporters. Security guards did not attempt to stop the disruption. The meeting was adjourned 15 minutes after it began. The minister of communications announced that it was an illegal act, and the government would launch an investigation; however, no one was held accountable by year's end.
On August 30, the UDJ successfully held a town hall meeting in Awasa, although the local administration forbade the UDJ to publicize the event in advance.
Street demonstrations have been barred since 2005, but on April 16, the UDJ held a peaceful public demonstration in Addis Ababa to protest the rejailing of its chairperson, Birtukan Mideksa. Municipal authorities authorized the demonstration, and local and federal police coordinated security.
There were few attacks by police and militia against demonstrators, since not many public assembly permits were issued and illegal demonstrations were infrequent.
There were no developments in the 2008 beatings of Dejen town residents who were protesting local officials' stalling of the residents' application for use of nearby farmland.
There were no developments in the 2007 police shooting of two demonstrators in Damot Weyde District.
Freedom of Association
Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government in practice limited this right. Opposition parties received no government subsidies for their political activities despite laws providing for them.
In accordance with the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), adopted on February 13, civil society organizations (CSOs) are required to reregister by February 2010 with the recently established Charities and Societies Agency (CSA), under the authority of the MOJ. Most observers questioned the newly established CSA's capacity to register more than 3,000 CSOs by February 2010.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) screens applications for international NGOs and submits a recommendation to the MOJ whether to approve or deny registration.
The Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) has operated since 1967, but in 1993 after the EPRDF took power, an alternate, pro-EPRDF ETA was established. In 1993 the original ETA and the government-supported ETA began a prolonged legal battle over the organization's name and property rights. In 2008 the Court of Cassation ruled against the original ETA and awarded its name and property to the pro-EPRDF ETA (see section 7.a.). In August 2008 the original ETA applied to the MOJ for registration as the National Teachers Association, but was denied registration.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice; however, local authorities and members of society occasionally infringed on this right. The EOC and Sufi Islam are the dominant religions; 80 percent of the population adhered to one or the other faith. Religious organizations, like NGOs, must renew their registration with the MOJ every three years. The EOC and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs