Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ethiopia's Dictatorship

Some governments are more despicable than others. The elite ruling Ethiopia is especially nasty. They claim to govern in a democratic, pluralistic manner; they say they observe human rights and the rule of law, that the judiciary is independent, the media open and free, and public assembly permitted as laid out in the constitution. But the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) systematically violates fundamental human rights, silences all dissenting voices and rules the country in a suppressive, violent fashion that is causing untold suffering to millions of people throughout the country.

There is no freedom of the press: Journalists are persecuted, intimidated and arrested on false charges, so too their families. All significant media outlets and print companies are state-owned or controlled, as is the sole telecommunications company - allowing for unfettered government monitoring and control of the internet. Radio is almost exclusively state-owned and, with adult literacy at around 48 percent, remains the major source of information. Where private media has survived, they are forced to self-censor their coverage of political issues: If they deviate from "approved content," they face harassment and closure. The government also restricts access to numerous websites, including independent news, opposition parties and groups defined by the government as terrorist organizations and political blogs. The required technology and expertise to carry out such criminal acts is supplied by companies from China and Europe - companies that should "assess the human rights risks raised by potential business activity, including risk posed to the rights of freedom of expression, access to information, association, and privacy." In other words: behave in a responsible, ethical manner.

The two most prominent journalists to be imprisoned are award-winning Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu Gobebo. Arrested at least seven times, Nega is currently serving an 18-year sentence for doing nothing more than calling on the government to respect freedom of expression laws enshrined in the constitution (that the EPRDF themselves penned), and end torture in the country's prisons. Reeyot Gobebo, winner of the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, is currently serving a five-year jail term (commuted from 14 years after two of the charges were dropped on appeal), after being charged with a variety of unfounded, unsubstantiated terrorist related charges. These two courageous professionals, HRW relates, have "come to symbolize the plight of dozens more media professionals, both known and unidentified, in Addis Ababa and in rural regions, who have suffered threats, intimidation, sometimes physical abuse, and politically motivated prosecutions under criminal or terrorism charges."

By essentially banning independent media and making freedom of expression a criminal offense, the Ethiopian government is in gross violation of its own legally binding constitution as well as a raft of international covenants. All of which seems not to concern the ruling party, which treats international law with the same indifference it applies to the Ethiopian people. Freedom of the media and freedom of expression sit alongside other democratic principles, like an independent judiciary, consensual governance, participation and freedom of assembly. Where these basic tenets are absent, so too is democracy. If the state systematically crushes independent media and commits widespread human rights violations, as in Ethiopia, we see not a democratic government, but a brutal dictatorship committing acts of state terrorism.

This is an abridged version of a Graham Peebles article which is available in full at the Truthout website

No comments: