In response to rising political tension in recent weeks and the danger it poses to ongoing reforms in Ethiopia, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“Ethiopia’s significant political gains in the last year are at risk,” said Jon Temin, director of Africa programs at Freedom House. “Following the assassination of government officials in the Amhara Region and in Addis Ababa, the government’s use of repressive measures—which include shutting down the internet and using the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation—is troubling.”
“In light of major political developments expected in the next few days, including a potential unilateral declaration of a ‘Sidama Regional State’ by Sidama activists, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government should refrain from resorting to such repressive tactics,” said Yoseph Badwaza, senior program officer for Ethiopia at Freedom House. “Now that the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia has provided a timeline for the Sidama statehood referendum, political leaders in the region and the federal government should engage in dialogue to reach a mutually agreed settlement of the issues in question.”
In what the government referred to as a “failed coup attempt,” three senior officials of the Amhara Region, including the region’s president, were assassinated in Bahir Dar on June 22. Hours later, the army chief of staff and a retired general were killed in Addis Ababa. Following these killings, the government shut down the internet for five days and arrested hundreds of people across the country. Some of those arrested are accused of terrorist acts and have been remanded in custody for 28 days under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
Sidama activists in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region threatened to unilaterally declare a “Sidama Regional State” if the government failed to meet a constitutionally mandated deadline of July 18 to set a date for a referendum on Sidama statehood. In his address to Parliament on July 1, Prime Minister Abiy urged the activists to wait until the government finalizes preparations for an orderly referendum process and strongly warned against a unilateral declaration of statehood. On July 16, the National Elections Board of Ethiopia issued a statement saying that it will conduct the referendum in the next five months.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.