After a tense year marked by widely-criticized elections in which Ethiopia’s ruling party won 100 percent of parliamentary seats, 2015 concluded with yet more repression in the East African nation, notes Simegnish “Lily” Mengesha (left), a visiting fellow and former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies. During the last weeks of December, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported the arrests of two journalists, while five Zone 9 bloggers who had been acquitted of terrorism charges in October were summoned back to court as state prosecutors appealed their earlier acquittal, she writes for the Resurgent Dictatorship blog:
These detentions occurred amid widespread protests in Oromia state, Ethiopia’s largest region. Human Rights Watch reported that since the protests began in mid-November 2015, police and security forces had killed 140 protesters and wounded many others, while hundreds of demonstrators and activists have been jailed; Ethiopian government officials have only publicly acknowledged five deaths.
The trigger for this recent crisis was the Integrated Regional Development Plan for Addis Ababa. Commonly known as “The Addis Ababa Master Plan,” its implementation would have expanded the capital city into parts of the neighboring Oromia region, potentially displacing a large number of local farmers, threatening their constitutionally-protected right to livelihood, and eroding local authority. ….
In my January 2016 Journal of Democracy article, I describe how Ethiopia’s authorities have used legal and economic methods to suppress civil society and independent media. Ethiopia’s criminal code and press law, which have long been highly restrictive, have tightened significantly in the years since Ethiopia’s 2005 general elections, when mass protests erupted over vote-rigging allegations.
A seasoned journalist, media consultant, and translator, Simegnish “Lily” Mengesha previously served as director of the Ethiopian Environment Journalists Association.