Ethiopia: Killing of protesters must be investigated

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa strongly condemns the killing of at least 166* protesters in Ethiopia by security forces and the ongoing disruption to Internet services. The government’s response to the protests is preventing people from exercising numerous rights, including their rights to online and offline freedom of assembly, access to information and freedom of expression.

“Security forces can only use lethal force when strictly necessary to defend themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

“The government must restore the Internet connection to ensure dialogue, debate and public mobilisation for civic action, and the ability of external and internal information flows,” continued Mugambi Kiai.

The ongoing unrest in Addis Ababa, and other cities in the Oromia region was triggered by the death of popular musician and activist, Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June 2020. Hundessa, who will be buried on 2 July 2020, released songs which passionately fought for the political rights of the Oromo ethnic group. Hundessa’s songs became the symbol of the anti-government protests, which led to a regime change in 2018.

According to recent reports by international media and local spokespersons, at least 81 people have died and scores have been injured during the protests. Most people taken to hospital had either been shot, beaten and/or stabbed, which points to the use of excessive force and unlawful killings.

The government must stop its use of lethal force on citizens exercising their right to protest and should immediately constitute an independent investigation into the killings with a view to bringing those responsible to account.

In April 2020, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa called on the government to guarantee Internet access given the instrumentality of the free flow of, and access to, timely information and news, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. This was re-affirmed by the three mandate holders in the ‘Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age’ which deplores “restrictions on the ability of the public to access the Internet, including complete or partial shutdowns, which seriously limit the ability of media… and others to communicate with the public, as well as the ability of members of the public to access information.”

The Ethiopian government has signed several international human rights treaties which guarantee online and offline freedom of expression and access to information. Clearly, efforts to suppress the voices of protesters through violence and online censorship must not be allowed to occur with impunity.

*This statement was updated on July 6 to show the increased number of protestors reported killed.