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Rights Activists in Ethiopia Report Obstacles at Every Turn

  • Marthe van der Wolf

A man attends a prayer session at Biftu Bole Lutheran Church during a prayer and candle ceremony for protesters who died in the town of Bishoftu two weeks ago during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 16, 2016.

A man attends a prayer session at Biftu Bole Lutheran Church during a prayer and candle ceremony for protesters who died in the town of Bishoftu two weeks ago during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 16, 2016.

Ethiopian human rights activists, members of opposition parties and those working in the media say their freedom of movement has been severely limited since the government declared a state of emergency three weeks ago. Many are afraid to speak out while others had to stop working.

Ethiopia’s government has insisted the six-month state of emergency — declared so authorities can deal with protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions — does not affect the constitutional rights of citizens.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, protesters chant slogans against the government during a march in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 file photo, protesters chant slogans against the government during a march in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

But while things might seem calm in the streets of Addis Ababa, those perceived as challenging the government's views say they are often blocked from carrying out their activities.

Assefa Habtewold is the chairman of the opposition All Ethiopian Unity Party. He says it has become almost impossible for his party members to operate.

“We cannot go from region to region and visit our members," said Habtewold. "We cannot conduct meetings with our members at different districts. All this is prohibited. All in all we cannot make a meeting of more than two persons. Totally our movement is halted. Until the end of the state of emergency we cannot do anything.”

The party, like other opposition parties, says dozens of its members have been detained or are being harassed.

Addis Standard, a weekly independent magazine, announced last week it is suspending its print edition. No printing house is willing to print their magazine following the state of emergency, says editor-in-chief Tsedale Lemma.

“It makes everybody hung onto this unspecified fear of what’s going to happen if this material is published," said Lemma. "Will it be misunderstood, will it be used against me? So this has a huge impact on doing journalism for us. As we have seen it now with Addis Standard, it even extends to vendors, and printers, and pretty much everyone involved in making a print product.”

Tsedale says the magazine will continue online, despite the country’s internet being mostly switched off.

Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, has been demonstrating for nearly a year demanding more freedom, economic inclusiveness and proper compensation for land disputes. Hundreds have been killed during clashes with police.

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