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News: Amnesty urges Ethiopia to respect right to peaceful protest, immediate release of detained media staff

Protests took place in March 2023 in several districts of the Guji zone, Oromia regional state (Picture: Badhasa Hailu/Facebook)

Addis Abeba – Ethiopian authorities must immediately release seven media staff detained against a backdrop of rising violence in the Amhara region, investigate allegations of physical assault against one of them and protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all, Amnesty International said today.

The human rights organization is concerned about reports of violations and violence in Amhara, where exchanges of gunfire have been reported in multiple locations, including the killing of two humanitarian workers on 9 April and the mass arrests in the regional and national capital, Addis Abeba.

Government forces and other armed actors have the duty not to target humanitarian workers. The Government of Ethiopia should promptly, thoroughly, independently, and effectively investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice in fair trials. 

“The chilling arrests of Genet Asmamaw, Getnet Aragaw, Aragaw Sisay, Meskerem Abera, Abay Zewdu, Dawit Begashaw and Tewodros Asfaw are an attack on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. Authorities must immediately release all seven journalists and drop all charges against them. They must also investigate reports that Genet Asmamaw was violently assaulted when she was arrested and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for campaigns East Africa, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions.

“Journalists and media workers need to be able to do their work without any threat, intimidation and harassment to effectively carry out their professional duties of informing the public and contributing to holding authorities accountable.Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and authorities must allow people to exercise their right to protest. As reports of exchange of fire emerged in multiple locations in the Amhara region, we urge the Federal government and regional authorities to protect the population and their property.” 

Residents of Addis Abeba who have been subjected to unlawful mass detentions should be charged with a recognized crime in a process that ensures their right to a fair trial. Otherwise, they must be released immediately.

“Finally, as Ethiopia enters the third month of a government-imposed blockade on selected social media platforms, Amnesty International calls on authorities to remove restrictions on human rights offline and online, including the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.” said Flavia Mwangovya.

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Background 

Since last week, residents across the Amhara region of Ethiopia have taken to the streets after the federal government’s announcement to “restructure” the paramilitary police forces, which are special force units, across the country, including in the Amhara Region.

In the meantime, lawyers representing many of the detained people in Addis Abeba said the questions put to the detainees during interrogation are ethnically motivated.

Ethiopia, alongside its neighbor Eritrea remains Sub-Saharan Africa’s worst jailer of journalists. Last year Ethiopia was also among the top five countries in the world where many humanitarian workers were targeted. 

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