The 2014 edition of the US State Department on Human Rights’ report severely criticizes the Ethiopian government in relation to the handling and practice of basic human rights in the country.
Among many problems and obstacles that the report illustrates are mainly associated with human right abuses and other related issues, mainly focusing on harsh treatment of journalists, opposition political figures, and bloggers, and the containment within the entire media sector.
“Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government often ignored these provisions. There were many reports of arbitrary arrests and detention by police and security forces throughout the country,” the report said.
Another area that is raised by the report regarding the detention of individuals is the denial of visitation for the families of prisoners.
The report stated, “The government did not permit access to prisoners by international human rights organizations.”
Regarding the issue of freedom of speech and the press, the report raised a case to demonstrate its justification and stated that in February, the Federal First Instance Court in Addis Ababa convicted Asrat Tassie, a prominent member of the UDJ, of contempt of court after he wrote in an opinion piece, “We should not expect justice from [Ethiopian] courts.” The judge sentenced Asrat to a five-month imprisonment but immediately suspended the sentence, opting for a two-year probationary period instead.
Additionally, the report also incorporated the cases of journalists who are detained, harassed or forced to leave the country. The report argued that “the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, authorities arrested detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and other persons whom they perceived as critical of the government. Some journalists, editors, and publishers fled the country, fearing probable detention. At year’s end, at least 16 journalists remained in detention; of these, 10 were arrested and charged during the year, and all but one was denied bail and remain detained; four journalists and publishers were charged, tried, and convicted in absentia.”
The report also raised an issue over the closed publishing houses that used to run a media business in the country, stating, “The government continued to take action to close independent newspapers. On August 4, the Ministry of Justice issued a statement accusing independently run publications Enqu, Fact, Addis Guday, Lomi, Jano, and Afro Times of ‘repeated acts of incitement’ intended ‘to cause a violent overthrow of the constitutional order.'”
Unlike in previous years, there were fewer credible reports of disappearances of civilians after clashes between security forces and rebel groups. There were no developments in determining the whereabouts of 12 residents of Alamata town detained in January 2013 by security forces following protests against government plans to demolish illegal housing units.
The report also incorporated other human rights problems including reports of harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; alleged abuses in the implementation of the government’s “villagization” program; restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement; clashes between ethnic minorities; limits on worker rights; forced labor and child labor.
The report depicts restrictions on freedom of expression, including continued restrictions in print media and on the Internet, and restrictions on freedom of association, including through arrests, politically motivated trials, and harassment and intimidation of opposition members and journalists. The government’s continued restrictions on activities of civil society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) imposed by the Charities and Societies Proclamation (the CSO law) is listed as the most significant human rights problems in the country.