Security forces made arrests on Dec. 5 when members of the Blue Party and eight other opposition groups took to the streets of the capital, Addis Ababa, to call for greater freedom to hold meetings and rallies, Yonatan Tesfaye Regassa, the party’s head of public relations, said by phone.
Organization leader Yilkal Getnet was among those freed, while four other opposition members are still detained, possibly because they refused to co-operate with investigators, according to Yonatan. Investigations into the activists continue, he said.
Ethiopia is gearing up for parliamentary elections in May while rights groups including Amnesty International and donors such as the U.S. accuse its government of using legislation to criminalize legitimate dissent by political activists.
Communications Minister Redwan Hussien and Communications State Minister Shimeles Kemal didn’t answer a call each to their mobile phones today seeking comment.
Ethiopia’s constitution says everyone has the right to hold peaceful public protests. For “public convenience” the authorities may proscribe the location, route or timing of the demonstrations, it says.
“It was actually very bad and vicious,” Yonatan said, describing the policing of a protest near the party’s headquarters. “There was no talk, no negotiation. When they tried to pass the police blockade they started beating everyone.”
Protest PolicingLast week’s “illegal” protest was supported by Amsterdam-based Ethiopian Satellite Television, a “mouthpiece” of the banned U.S.-based opposition group Ginbot 7, Fana Broadcasting Corp. said on its website on Dec. 8, citing the Addis Ababa Police Commission.
Some protesters were arrested near Meskel Square where a state-run railway is being built, Yonatan said.
“The individuals chose a development site for their unlawful gathering, highlighting their anti-development and anti-peace stance,” Addis Ababa-based Fana cited the commission as saying. Nobody was harmed during the operation, it said.
The rally came after the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Electoral Board didn’t respond to the parties’ request for changes, according to Yonatan.
“These days you can’t organize any public meeting either in-house or in public places, so the demand was to have free space for the politics,” he said.
One opposition lawmaker won a seat in a 547-member federal parliament in 2010’s election.