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Ethiopia’s Police State: The Silencing of Opponents, Journalists and Citizens

Ethiopian police attacking spectators of a football match in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia’s Police State: The Silencing of Opponents, Journalists and Students Detained

By Paul O’Keeffe,

Detention under spurious charges in Ethiopia is nothing new. With the second highest rate of imprisoned journalists in Africa[1] and arbitrary detention for anyone who openly objects to the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime’s despotic iron fist, the Western backed government in Addis Ababa is a dab hand at silencing its critics.

Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu are just two of the country’s more famous examples of journalists thrown in prison for daring to call the EPRFD out on their reckless disregard for human rights. This April the regime made headlines again for jailing six[2] bloggers and three more journalists on trumped up charges of inciting violence through their journalistic work. Repeated calls for due legal process for the detainees from human rights organisations and politicians, such as John Kerry, have fallen on deaf ears as they languish in uncertainty awaiting trial. This zero-tolerance approach to questioning of government repression is central to the EPRDF’s attempts to control its national and international image and doesn’t show much signs of letting up.

Stepping up their counter-dissent efforts the regime just this week detained another journalist Elias Gebru – the editor-in-chief of the independent news magazine Enku. Gebru’s magazine is accused of inciting student protests[3] which rocked Oromia state at the end of April. The magazine published a column which discussed the building of a monument[4] outside Addis Ababa honouring the massacre of Oromos by Emperor Melinik in the 19th century. The regime has tried to tie the column with protests against its plans to bring parts of Oromia state under Addis Ababa’s jurisdiction. The protests, which kicked off at Ambo University and spread to other parts of the state, resulted in estimates[5] of up to 47 people being shot dead by security forces.

Ethiopia has a history of student protest movements setting the wheels of change in motion. From student opposition to imperialism in the 1960s and 1970s to the early politicisation of Meles Zenawi at the University Students’ Union of Addis Ababa.  The world over things begin to change when people stand up, say enough and mobilise. Ethiopia is no different. Similar to its treatment of journalists Ethiopia also has a history of jailing students and attempting to eradicate their voices. In light of such heavy handed approaches to dissent the recent protests which started at Ambo University are a telling sign of the level discontent felt by the Oromo – the country’s largest Ethnic group. Long oppressed by the Tigrayan dominated EPRDF, the Oromo people may have just started a movement which has potential ramifications for a government bent on maintaining its grip over the ethnically diverse country of 90 million plus people.

Students and universities are agents of change and the EPRDF regime knows this very well. The deadly backlash from government forces against the student protesters in Oromia in April resulted in dozens[6] of protesters reportedly being shot dead in the streets of Ambo and other towns in Oromia state. Since the protests began scores more have been arbitrarily detained or vanished without a trace from campuses and towns around the state. One student leader, Deratu Abdeta  (a student at Dire Dawa University) is currently unlawfully detained in the notorious Maekelawi prison for fear she may encourage other students to protest. She is a considered at high risk of being tortured.

In addition to Ms. Abdeta many other students are suspected of being unlawfully detained around the country. On May 27th 13 students were abducted from Haramaya University by the security forces. The fate of 12 of the students is unknown but one student, Alsan Hassan, has reportedly committed suicide by cutting his own throat all the way to the bones at the back of his neck after somehow managing to inflict bruises all over his body and gouging out his own eye. His tragic death became known when a local police officer called his family to identify the body and told them to pay 10,000 Birr ($500) to transport his body from Menelik hospital in Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa town in Oromo state.  Four of the other students have been named as Lencho Fita Hordofa, Ararsaa Lagasaa, Jaaraa Margaa, and Walabummaa Goshee.

Detaining journalists and students without fair judicial recourse may serve the EPRDF regime’s short term goal of eradicating its critics. However, the reprehensible silencing of opponents is one sure sign of a regime fearful of losing its vice-like grip. Ironically the government itself has its own roots in student led protests in the 1970s. No doubt it is well aware that universities pose one of the greatest threats to its determination to maintain power at all costs. Countless reports of spies monitoring student and teacher activities on campus, rigid curriculum control and micro-managing just who gets to study what are symptoms of this. The vociferous clamp-down on student protesters is another symptom and just the regime’s latest attempt to keep Ethiopia in a violent headlock. The regime would do well to remember that stress positions cause cramps and headlocks can be broken. It can try to suppress the truth but it can’t try forever.

Paul O’Keeffe is a Doctoral Fellow at Sapienza University of Rome. His research focuses on Ethiopia’s developing higher education system.

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Ethiopia’s Police State: The Silencing of Opponents, Journalists and Citizens Reviewed by Admin on 11:31 PM Rating: 5


  1. "Ironically the government itself has its own roots in student led protests in the 1970s." Just like how ironically Eritrea fought for their Independence but ended up becoming just as oppressing as their predecessors. Look, If Ethiopia is locking up journalist and protesters, we should do the opposite and free any prisoner imprisoned based on their opinion toward the government. Other countries would probably look at us a little differently, and It would make the Ethiopian government look even less humanitarian. By default, they would have the highest rate of imprisoned journalists and political prisoners.

  2. Agree with you 100%

  3. HOEASSNIGGA #CHRI$$$June 12, 2014 at 4:00 AM

    The hypocrisy. Eritrea isn't different when it comes to this. Probably even worse.

  4. when was students were shot and killed in Eritrea, yes I agree some Journalist are detained, but we don't have "the highest rate of imprisoned journalists" just because some foreign body said so it does not make it true, de we need a due process? of course we do whoever been found undermining national security also deserves a hearing, and yes there are political prisoners who also deserve a due process, this people are still serving their time and will be released when the time is right, this a process also started recently. Eritrea will be a land of milk and honey, only time is needed, time without interference, time without anyone meddling in our internal affairs, as we managed to get our independence, we will manage nation building which will take years but with a firm economical and social foundation Eritrea will be better off and the nay sayers will come around. Eritrea was democratic, there were several magazines and there was a reasonable openness and journalists use to write about the government, but this opportunity was used to undermine the nation and things changed. Until the nation strong and the social fabric is firmly built on, food security for all, health for all, education for all, equal opportunity for all (believe I am not socialist), we shall focus on the basics, you can shout about freedom but you forget that Eritrea as a nation was born not long a go, Eritrea is learning to walk in the jungle of hypocrisy and slowly but surely we are walking, and we will keep on walking.

  5. To protect and to build a country had none to to begin with is not oppression of its citizens,This generation handed over freedom that their ancestors have't seen in more than five centuries.The destruction and none developmental that Eritrea experienced the 100 s yrs can not be solved in only 23 rocky yrs. No one is better than the other so every one need to be involved 24/7 in creating a new Eritrea for this and future generation to come.

  6. Feel sorry for those who suffer in ethiopia due to the narrow minded leadership that imported a failed federal state from his masters..

  7. no country for young menJune 12, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    20 years ago Eritrea was walking but right now Eritrea is on her knees,it is not hard to tell what the future of Eritrea is ,unless we throw the dictator off durfo cliff.

  8. "Hawika abey alo" N "natna nigber"
    Weyanes on both sides of the border.

  9. "When was students were shot and killed in Eritrea"?
    Don't you remember Maihabar? They shot and killed their compatriots in vein! !

  10. The diff is we are not playing hashweye.EPLF is more real than God. Think.

  11. no country for young menJune 12, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    Be Careful not to drown in a mirage

  12. We are saying WOYANE SMASH THE HEADS OF ETHIOPIANS !!! Is is so hard to understand?
    Stop twisting the subject.

  13. You can"t handle the truthJune 12, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    EPLF is real than god? i don't think EPLF exist any more,it just your head(PFDJ) playing tricks on you .wake up and smell the coffee.

  14. Now, you see it should have been the otherway around, does God really exist? Man has been asking for ad millinium, EPLF on the other hand is breathing on your neck. PFDJ son? Or is it the son? Holy molly.

  15. Why are you so much Worried about Ethiopia! Why don't you do your home work?

    And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
    (Genesis 4:9
    King James Bible "Authorized Version", Cambridge Edition)

    ** Cain, Where Is Your Brother, Abel? **

    ** I do not know! Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my brother’s keeper?**

  16. Lady justice is the goddessJune 12, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    I never said any thing about god,you the one saying god blah blah we are not talking evolution VS god,we are talking dictatorship VS justice .you have no clue what EPLF was and what PFDJ is ,the sad part is ,it is commonsense in Eritrea PFDJ is mafia organization and EPLF was the peoples front,for you not to know this proves that hegdefawian are the dumbest of all time history of Eritrea.
    Stop wasting your time go to school you might learn one or two things about justice.

  17. Lady"justice" is the bla are confused and disoriented person,you should go to 0 class and learn the differnce of EPLF,Shaàbiya,PFDJ on behalf of whom and who they are.Do gather yourself from yr dumb division and think as the mass brilliant Eritreans.


  19. Remind me when was that i talked to you? If there exists a school on EPLF and PFDJ, count me enrolled, and you are right i was talking about God, so what?
    Thank Terry for me while you are at it.

  20. You mean Isayas/Yemane/Yemane/Osman and all gedim fighters of Eritrea who are now representing the People of Eritrea are not EPLF (the now called PFDJ) ? Do you mean half of them is wrong and half is right ? LOL

  21. Yes we hate you agame and all the people of Ethiopia too. You are snakes !!! ugly race !

  22. Karkar nebsi! Indo yebilkin mesleni anti resa bi hilina.
    It's not name its the ideology that make EPLF or PFDJ.
    EPLF was hero's front, but PFDJ is "nai leklekti".

  23. Yigermal Yeraswa Arobat Yesew Sitamasil.

  24. Cain killed abel? I think that is the premesis, if agreed wouldn't it make you a killers decendant? I do not see where you are going with this so please if you are referring to the police brutality indeed they are not there brothers keepers but its not just the police the whole woyane thugs are not their brothers keepers. Your late PM once said " Those that did not return from the war, consider them martyars, for, unlike EPLF We have no written record of our comrades." That is a brothers keeper for you, cain's brother abel.


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