Ethiopia has for years been criticized for its authoritarian style of governance but its regional role in efforts to battle extremism in the Horn of Africa and the government’s antipoverty measures coupled with impressive economic growth has made the world slightly indulgent.
Despite the country’s poor human rights record, U.S. President Barrack Obama visited in July, although he was condemned by many for granting legitimacy to the government of Hailemariam Desalegn, the Ethiopian prime minister which often use arbitrary arrests and prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and supporters of opposition political parties. Ethiopians have endured a lot but what they may never have experienced is their government calling them terrorists.
According to Amnesty International, Ethiopian authorities have labelled protesters ‘terrorists’ in an attempt to violently suppress protests against potential land seizures in Oromo, which have already resulted in 40 deaths.
The human rights group cited a statement issued by state intelligence services on Thursday which claims that the Oromia protesters were planning to “destabilize the country” and that some of them have a “direct link with a group that has been collaborating with other proven terrorist parties”.
“The suggestion that these Oromo – protesting against a real threat to their livelihoods – are aligned to terrorists will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression for rights activists,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Instead of condemning the unlawful killings by the security forces, which have seen the deaths of more than 40 people in the last three weeks, this statement in effect authorizes excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.”
The protests, now in their third week, are against the government’s master plan to integrate parts of Oromia into the capital Addis Ababa as the city expands with Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth.
When the Oromo people held similar protests last year, the marches ended in deaths, injuries and mass arrest.
Under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009, the government has the right to use unrestrained force against suspected terrorists, including pre-trial detention of up to four months.
Amnesty International’s Wanyeki urged the Ethiopian government to “desist from using draconian anti-terrorism measures to quell protests and instead protect its citizen’s right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.