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Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including speech and for the press. With the encouragement of Prime Minister Abiy, a number of new and returned diaspora media outlets were able to register and begin operations in the country.

Freedom of Expression: Upon taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy stated freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government dramatically diminished.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media reported access to private, affordable, independent printing presses was generally limited to a single government-owned facility, which allowed government intimidation. Independent media cited limited access to a printing facility as a major factor in the small number, low circulation, and infrequent publication of news. State media moved toward more balanced reporting during the year, but strong government influence remained evident.

In Addis Ababa eight independent newspapers had a combined weekly circulation of approximately 44,000 copies; there were in addition two sports-focused newspapers. There were no independent newspapers outside the capital. Nine independent weekly, monthly, and bimonthly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation estimated at 27,000 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined daily circulation of approximately 50,000 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately owned Daily Monitor. Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF party. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Two government-owned radio stations covered the entire country, 12 private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one FM radio station operated in the Tigray Region, and 49 community radio stations broadcasting in other regions. The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by the Fana Broadcasting Corporation, generally regarded as affiliated with the EPRDF ruling party. There were 31 licensed satellite television stations and 28 radio stations.

The law prohibits political and religious organizations, as well as foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government’s arrest, harassment, and prosecution of journalists sharply declined, and imprisoned journalists were released.

On February 23, Oromia regional police detained two journalists from the privately owned online news outlet Mereja Television. Reporter Fasil Aregay and cameraman Habtamu Oda were interviewing individuals displaced by home demolitions when they were detained. Following the detentions, a mob attacked the two journalists in front of the police station in Legetafo.

On July 18, security personnel in Hawassa, the capital of the SNNP Region, arrested Getahun Deguye and Tariku Lemma, managers of the Sidama Media Network, and two board members. Police released one of the board members unconditionally after a few hours while the rest remained detained under allegations they were involved in the July 18 violence in Sidama Zone.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government. Examples of government interference included requests regarding specific stories and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private-sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship.

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked various social media sites. Beginning on June 10, the government partially and then totally shut down the internet for a week for undisclosed reasons. Many speculated that it related to the administration of national school leaving examinations. Ethiopians continued to be able to access blogs and opposition websites the government unblocked in 2018. The government shut down the internet following the June 22 killings in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa. On June 27, the government partially restored connectivity while continuing to block social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

The law on computer crimes includes some overly broad provisions that could restrict freedom of speech and expression. These included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio, or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among persons.

Authorities monitored communication systems and took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and email. In September the website Axios.com alleged the government used spyware to surveil journalists.

The government restricted academic freedom, primarily by controlling teachers’ appointments and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses.

According to multiple reports, the ruling EPRDF, through the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignments to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members noted that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested inadequate promotions and lack of professional advancement were more likely for non-EPRDF member teachers. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities, however, focused heavily on the social sciences.

According to reports, there was a buildup of security forces, both uniformed and plainclothes, embedded on university campuses in anticipation of student protests, especially in Oromia, in response to student demonstrations.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. On March 24, however, a group of youth in Bahir Dar interrupted a town hall meeting organized by the PG7. The youths reportedly forced their way into the meeting hall, took down banners with slogans of the party, and replaced them with their own messages. Government security forces did not stop the youths.

Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit for an event but could require changing the location or time for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities require the group seeking to hold an event move to another place or time, by law authorities must notify organizers in writing within 12 hours of their request.

The EPRDF used its own conference centers and government facilities in Addis Ababa and the regional capitals for meetings and events.

The Baladeras Council, led by activist and journalist Eskinder Nega, canceled four planned public meetings over a period of three months. On March 24, the council canceled its planned meeting because police stated they could not be present to maintain the security of participants, despite the fact that the council had informed police a week in advance. One week later police canceled a meeting due to fear for the safety of Eskinder. Prime Minister Abiy’s press secretary offered to hold the meeting in the prime minister’s office. Twice in June, police stopped a planned press conference for Eskinder after the owner of the hotel where the event was to be held complained to police that he did not know the content of the press conference. Eskinder canceled a protest scheduled for October 13 to voice opposition to the backsliding of democracy in the country. The move to cancel the protest came after the Addis Ababa Police issued a statement on October 12 banning the gathering. Police also temporarily detained the protest’s coordinators. Eskinder told local media that his group submitted a notification letter to the city administration two weeks in advance of the planned protest.

The law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity. In March a new Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), also called the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law, was adopted to replace more restrictive legislation that had been in place since 2009. The new law allows civil society organizations the right to solicit, receive, and utilize funds from any legal source including the right to engage in any lawful business and investment activity in order to raise funds to attain their objectives. The new law removes limitations on engagement on policy advocacy, most notably in the human rights space.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: Throughout the year local media reported various Amhara-Tigray roadblocks operated by civilians, some of which were still in place as of September. While the roadblocks are not state sanctioned, both regional and federal authorities were unable to open the roads for free movement.

Foreign Travel: The government lifted a ban on the travel of workers to Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) as of October 2018, following the signing of bilateral agreements with those countries. The government had instituted the ban in 2013 following reports of abuse and complaints that employment agencies lured its citizens into working abroad in illegal and appalling conditions. The agreements obligate hosting countries to ensure the safety, dignity, and rights of Ethiopian employees. The agreements also grant insurance for the workers and facilitate support from the government’s representatives in the Gulf.

According to data published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in August, the country had 1,645,867 conflict-affected IDPs, mostly in Somali and Oromia regions. In 2018 the number of IDPs reached as many as 3.2 million, according to unofficial estimates, with more than half of that number being displaced in 2018. In the IOM’s latest Displacement Tracking Matrix, that covered monitoring through June, assessors could not access all areas of Gedeo/Guji and the Wellegas to count the number of displaced persons accurately. A majority of the displacements were a result of internal conflict, particularly interregional and interclan conflicts and property disputes that were exacerbated by a lack of governance. The IOM identified 518,334 IDPs caused by drought, flash floods, and landslides, mainly in the Oromia, Somali, and Afar Regions. Other factors, such as development projects, social tensions, and natural events, contributed to the displacement of 71,089 persons.

IDPs do not have uniform or consistent access to assistance, compensation, or livelihoods. Their ability to utilize basic services, such as health care or education, or participate in civic or political action, is limited by lack of access to documentation. In some instances the government strongly encouraged returns of IDPs without adequate arrangements for security and sustainability, leading to secondary and tertiary displacements. The government reportedly used food to induce returns.

In the area of Gedeb, in the Gedeo Zone of the SNNP Region, up to 80,000 IDPs did not receive assistance for three to four months due to the government’s restrictions on access. When the community of Gedeb refused to board buses to return to its home of origin, the government deployed significant numbers of military personnel to ensure their return and to assist with the dismantling of sites. The government claimed it deployed military personnel to protect the IDPs from those who wanted to discourage them from getting on buses. In East and West Wellega, IDPs cited safety and security concerns as their main reasons for not wishing to return home. In some areas, beginning at least a month prior a phase of IDP returns in May, the government used the discontinuation of assistance, including dismantling of sites in displacement areas as a means to induce IDPs to return to their areas of origin. NGO partners reported the government restricted or suspended the NGOs’ ability to deliver assistance to hundreds of thousands of IDPs. Severe acute malnutrition spiked among this group of IDPs, and the government moved them after only one round of assistance, threatening the viability of the lifesaving treatment. According to humanitarian NGO partners, not all of the government-initiated returns of IDPs were considered safe, voluntary, or dignified.

In West Wellega, NGO partners and authorities reported in August that IDPs returned to the Kamashi Zone were returning to IDP sites, citing persistent insecurity and limited access to their former land as well as to shelter and essential services. Government authorities reportedly did not allow partners to assist these IDPs arguing that doing so would create a “pull factor.” Additionally, the government was unwilling to identify these IDPs as displaced, thus eliminating the possibility for needs-based humanitarian responses. In the Wellegas, the government was responsible for food delivery and initially provided inconsistent and inadequate assistance, which it subsequently discontinued.

Monitoring undertaken by NGO protection partners in July reconfirmed that authorities continued to deny humanitarian assistance to persons who had not returned to their home of origin. The government-initiated joint targeting exercise undertaken in Gedeo and West Guji was intended to identify persons in need, regardless of status, but those IDPs who remained displaced were not captured in the assessment, due to both implementation constraints and access constraints. The government in Gedeo acknowledged exclusion of IDPs in the targeting exercise, although it did not facilitate assistance for all displaced persons.

As of July the country hosted 655,105 refugees. Major countries of origin were South Sudan (303,733), Somalia (175,961), Eritrea (100,566), and Sudan (50,777).

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government used a refugee-status-determination system for providing services and protection to refugees.

Employment: On January 17, parliament passed a law greatly expanding the rights of refugees hosted in the country. The Refugee Proclamation grants refugees the right to work, access primary education and financial institutions, obtain drivers’ licenses, and register births, marriages, and deaths. The law provides neither guidance on how the right to work will be implemented in practice, nor who will be eligible.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. Eritrean refugees were the exception, as they are eligible for out-of-camp status if they are sponsored by an Ethiopian citizen to leave the refugee camp. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR. In June UNHCR, UNICEF, the Ethiopian Vital Events Registration Agency, and the Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) opened the first one-stop-shop in the Bambasi Refugee Camp in Benishangul-Gumuz for refugees to register births, marriages, divorces, and deaths and receive protection referrals and civil documentation in line with the Global Compact on Refugees.

In July UNHCR and ARRA completed a comprehensive Level 3 registration exercise for refugees in the country. The number of recorded refugees decreased as a result from 905,831 to 655,105. Registration was available in Addis Ababa and in all 26 refugee camps. The reasons for the decrease in registered refugees included nomadic lifestyles so they were not present in the camps, removal of double-counted refugees or citizens who registered as refugees during an influx, and some spontaneous returns to South Sudan.

Not applicable.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future