In a statement by the US National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price the White House said it was “deeply concerned” by Ethiopia’s recent arrest of journalists and cautioned Ethiopia to refrain from using its infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to silence dissent.
But the statement conspicuously avoided mentioning recent protests by the Oromos throughout the country’s largest regional state and the brutal crackdown orchestrated by the government.
“Having welcomed developments in Ethiopia earlier this year–including the release of several detained bloggers–that suggested increased protections for the fundamental right of free expression, we are deeply concerned by the recent arrests of other journalists in Ethiopia,” the statement said.
The protest started on Nov. 12 by residents of Ginchi, a small town around 80km South West of Addis Abeba, who feared local authorities’ attempt to sale an investment land to investors. However, other protests have quickly spread throughout the regional state with protestors demanding the scraping of the controversial ‘Addis Abeba Master Plan’, which the government claims is a plan for infrastructure integration of the Addis Abeba city with seven surrounding localities under the federal jurisdiction of the Oromiya regional state.
Activists claim so far government forces have killed 120 protestors, maimed hundreds and imprisoned thousands. The government’s number of fatality stopped at just five. What is clear is a massive scale of arrest of individual students, artists, activists and opposition political party members that is currently underway. Last week seven senior members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), including Bekele Gerba, who was only released in April this year after four years in prison, were arrested. This week, Yonatan Tesfaye , former PR head of the opposition Blue party was detained by security forces.
The White House statement appears completely oblivious of such details in the unfolding situation in Ethiopia. It, however, says in general that the US will “continue to urge the Ethiopian Government to build on earlier developments by strengthening free speech protections and broadening democratic progress, and note that the continued stifling of independent voices will only inhibit such progress as well as development and economic growth.”
The White House statement also warns Ethiopia that even though the US “has consistently applauded Ethiopia for being a model and a voice for development in Africa” if they are to be sustainable, such gains must “rest on a foundation of democratic governance and respect for human rights.”