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News: Freedom House annual report labels Ethiopia ‘Not Free’, again

Addis Abeba – The annual report by the US-based Freedom House has once again labeled Ethiopia among countries that are “not free” with a freedom score of 21 out of 100.

The Freedom House has assessed a range of activities in Ethiopia in 2022 in terms of human and political rights, involvement in public politics, justice, governmental operation, freedom of expression, associational and organizational rights, application of the rule of law, arrests, and access to information about the two-year long war in Tigray.

The report indicated that Ethiopia scored 21 out of 100 on the Global Freedom Score, with freedom of political rights score standing at only 10 while civil liberties score is 11.

According to the report, at the start of the war in Tigray, internet and telephone lines were cut, and journalists were denied access to the region. The involvement of Eritrean soldiers, the status of refugee camps, and the humanitarian situation in Tigray all remain uncertain.

The conflict between the federal government and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Tigray over the course of two years caused the deaths of an estimated 600,000 people, and there remains a high risk of further mass atrocities being committed, said the report. The federal government and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a permanent Cessation of Hostilities agreement through peace talks mediated by the African Union in November last year.

The report stated that very little information is available about counter-insurgency operations and ethnic conflicts in Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, and Amhara. Also, the extent of the human rights abuses and war crimes committed in these areas remains difficult to verify, it noted.

In May, government forces arrested over 4,500 individuals, including journalists and activists, in what was a widespread crackdown in the Amhara region, said the report. “The government provided no justification for the arrests, and whether the people arrested in May remained in custody at the end of the year was unclear.”

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It is also stated that independent journalists remain constrained by security imperatives that limit their ability to work and travel, as well as repeatedly come under government pressure over their coverage of the internal conflicts in Tigray and Oromo. In some cases, journalists were detained without charges, expelled from the country, or had their licenses revoked in 2022.

“EMA and security institutions warned and threatened media outlets reporting on the violent conflicts and pressured them to adhere to the government narrative,” report reads.

Journalists also faced pressure, arrests, threats, and harassment, both online and offline, from the government to disclose the identities of their sources. In August 2022, the federal police announced that charges had been filed against 111 owners of “illegal” digital media outlets, accusing them of working to incite violence, according to the report.

On 11 April Addis Standard reported that the federal government has detained at least four journalists and media personalities in one week for suspected involvement in acts that incited violence in the country. Among the detained are Meskerem Abera, founder and owner of “Ethio Nikat”, Genet Asmamawu of Yaneta Media, Abay Zewudu from Amhara Media Center, Aragaw Sisay from Roha News. Earlier in March Getnat Ashagre, editor-in-chief of Amhara Voice Media has also been detained.

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The report also stated that corruption and unequal resource distribution are significant problems that have contributed to the recent civil unrest throughout Ethiopia. However, the ruling party has accused public servants or opposition politicians of corruption as a political weapon to punish dissent.

The government established a national committee to coordinate an anticorruption campaign in November 2022. The committee announced it had received over 250 tips within a week of its creation and testified to the widespread presence of corruption, labelling it as a major threat to national security.

Ethiopia’s security forces have maintained significant influence over the judicial process, especially in cases against opposition leaders and other political adversaries. Due process rights are generally not respected. The right to a fair trial is often not respected, particularly for government critics. Security forces who commit human rights abuses and violence go unpunished.

It is also reported that local civil society organizations (CSOs) face threats and warnings for advocating for issues contrary to the government’s position, especially in relation to internal conflicts.

The law and policy practices do not guarantee the population, indicates the report, and the number of IDPs in Ethiopia surpassed 2.72 million as of July 2022. Due to the violent conflicts, freedom of movement is also highly impeded. AS

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