Ethiopia extends emergency law, admits continuing threat of unrest

Ethiopian Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa

The Ethiopian government has extended the lifespan of a state of emergency it declared in October 2016 by an additional four months, stating that there is still a threat of unrest especially in border areas.

On Thursday, the country’s parliament passed into law a bill, “State of Emergency Proclamation for the Maintenance of Public Peace and Security Renewal.” The measure was supported by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and its affiliates.

Defense Minister and head of the command post tasked with the implementation of the decree, Siraj Fegessa told the parliamentarians that it is important to enhance the peace and stability achieved by the previous state of emergency decree, which was set to expire in April.

“We still have some anti-peace elements that are active and want to capitalize on disputes that arise among regional states in the country,” Siraj said.

He may have been referring to conflicts in February in areas bordering the Oromiya and the Ethio-Somali regional states, in which armed men from the latter allegedly attacked a number of rural districts in the former causing the deaths and displacements of civilians.

Siraj says that even though order is restored in large parts of the country, some inciting materials are still being published and distributed.

He additionally told the lawmakers that some of the leaders of the yearlong protests of 2015 and 2016 are not disciplined yet. “Some leaders of the violent acts that we witnessed before are still at large,” he said.

According to an oversight board that administers the performance of the state of emergency, more than 26,000 alleged protesters were detained over the past six months of whom close to 5,000 now face criminal charges. The rest were released after receiving counseling or a rehabilitation training, the board reported to the parliament on March 26th.

The board did not acknowledge any human rights violations committed against the detainees.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency a week after a number of civilians died in a stampede at the annual thanksgiving festival observed by the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo. Many Oromo had been protesting against the government for more than a year claiming marginalization and repression. Large numbers of Amhara, the second largest ethnic group, later joined them, voicing similar sentiments.

During the protests state-affiliated and foreign-owned investments were attacked. While unrest decreased dramatically following the decree, many Ethiopians see the government’s pledge to address public grievances that led to the protests as unfulfilled.

According to a legal scholar who wishes to remain anonymous, the extension of the decree might have come partly due to the government’s awareness that those issues are not solved. “I think the six months ran fast without the ruling party doing any significant reform,” he says. “Perhaps the authorities want to buy more time.”

The state of emergency was amended twice including on March 15th when the command post announced the relaxation of the decree. Accordingly, rovisions that granted security forces to arrest any suspect without court warrant and to indefinitely detain incommunicado were lifted.

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