As Ethiopians prepare for elections next year some in the opposition say a credible election is impossible without urgent political reforms.
The Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners Canada (SOCEPP-Can), an Ethiopian human rights group, this week held a one-day meeting in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, to discuss human rights issues in Ethiopia and the 2010 elections. The elections are slated for May 23 1010.
Aklilu Wendaferew, the chairman of the group, told VOA from Ottawa that the political and human rights situation in Ethiopia is cause for worry. “The political space has been narrowing since the election in 2005,” he said, “the government passed an NGO [non – governmental organization] law that is very restrictive of civil society and prohibits any human rights activity.”
“The free press in Ethiopia has been decimated, he noted, “many independent journalists have been forced into exile; some are forced to self censor.”
Wendaferew added that the [political] opposition is completely restricted and there are violation human rights.
Commenting on the recent conviction of 27 Ethiopians accused of conspiring to create public havoc in an attempt to bring down Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government, Wendaferew dismissed their trial as ridiculous. “The Ethiopian government has used the court system to push its agenda and to criminalize any dissent in the country.”
He said these are political problems that require political solutions. He also pointed out that “we have heard that some of these people were tortured in detention. This is against international law. Torture is a serious crime.”
Wendaferew said SOCEPP-Can will continue to speak out against human rights abuses in Ethiopia and urged the government to stop such abuses.
He said given what has happened since the last election, it is impossible to hold a free and fair election. “Given the situation [prevailing] now I do not believe there can be a free and fair election in Ethiopia.”
“If this government is serious about holding a free and fair elections there are certain things that must be done,’ Wendaferew said.
He urged the government to open the political space, free political detainees, negotiate with all opposition and have comprehensive discussions about the rule of law and human rights.
Ethiopia's polls on May 23, 2010 will be the first since 2005 when disputed election results sparked violence that claimed some 200 lives.