The Ethiopian Human Rights Council Friday released a report accusing local government and election officials of harassing members and supporters of opposition parties ahead of next month's general elections.
The head of investigation at the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Birhanu Tsigu, tells VOA his group has documented what he calls "election abuses and irregularities," which he says were committed mostly by low-level government officials operating in local communities.
"Most of these abuses have been committed against members, candidates and supporters of the opposition parties,” he said. “The kinds of violations range from extra-judicial killings, unlawful imprisonments, beatings and eviction from land, and different sorts of abuses. Most of the abuses have been investigated by our investigators who have been deployed to the sites of these violations, and we do have first-hand information, first-hand evidence, on all of these incidents reported."
The most serious incident described in Friday's report occurred in January in the Amhara region, where, Mr. Tsigu says, two people were killed and six others injured by local government officials. Mr. Tsigu says the victims were members of an opposition party and were deliberately targeted.
Mr. Tsigu says irregularities by election officials include the granting of several voting cards to one voter. Eech person is only supposed to get one card.
Election officials, he says, have also arbitrarily forced independent candidates to change their election symbols and signs well into their campaigns.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council has released several reports within the last few months documenting abuse.
"Our wish is that the election board, as well as others responsible government offices, will closely read these reports, and make the necessary corrections until the election day arrives, so that the election may turn out to be a free and fair election for the betterment of the country and the life of its people," he added.
Government Spokesman Zemedkun Tekle disputes the findings of the Human Rights Council. He tells VOA, his government is committed to holding free, fair and democratic elections.
"So, everything is moving very smoothly,” he said. “However, you can hear that [criticism] from those organizations, such as the human rights organization, saying this and that. However, the reality on the ground is, any branch of the government has been told to make its best effort to be sure [of] democratic and fair and free election."
Ethiopia's elections are scheduled for May 15. Although about 70 opposition parties are registered with the National Election Board of Ethiopia, two in particular -- the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the Union of Ethiopian Democratic Forces -- are the main contenders.