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29 September 2021


Ethiopia: Treatment of members of opposition parties, particularly those of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (ECSJ, Ezema), the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the Balderas Party (2019–August 2021)

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an African non-profit research organization that provides analysis and technical assistance on issues such as migration, peacekeeping, criminal justice, conflict and governance, to both governments and civil society (ISS n.d.), political reconciliation of the country's various political groups since the post-2018 transition [to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali's administration] "is losing momentum before substantive reconciliation efforts have begun" (ISS Apr. 2021, 15). Freedom House reports that the newly gained freedoms for opposition parties and politicians implemented in 2018 have "deteriorated" in 2020 (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. B2). According to the Danish Immigration Service (DIS), citing Norway's Country of Origin Information (COI) centre Landinfo, the positive reforms that marked the 2018 transition "have not continued, and the authorities have reverted to repressive methods to maintain law and order" and "curb political opposition" (Denmark Mar. 2021, 7).

1.1 Events of June 2020

Sources indicate that at the end of June and early July 2020, civil unrest and violent clashes occurred in various regions of the country, including with security forces, following the killing of Oromo musician Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June 2020 (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 160; Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. B1). The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an independent federal state body established by the Ethiopian Parliament and mandated to promote and protect human rights in the country (Ethiopia n.d.a), found in its investigative report that the "attacks during the unrest and overall commission of the crime by individuals and groups who directly took part in it, constitutes the elements of a crime against humanity" (Ethiopia 1 Jan. 2021, 2). According to Freedom House, the deadly attacks resulted in "a crackdown on political parties and leaders" some of whom were accused of involvement in the violence (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. B1). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020 indicates that "there were approximately 40 arrests of political [opposition] leaders and their followers" (US 30 Mar. 2021, 10). According to Amnesty International, 5,000 individuals were arrested for their suspected involvement in the attacks (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 160). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), government opposition figures from "across the political spectrum" were detained, and over 9,000 people were arrested, including "many" in Oromia (HRW 15 Aug. 2020).

Freedom House indicates that the mass protests that took place in response to the high-profile arrests of political opposition leaders were "suppressed violently" and that "most of the most vocal opponents of the government were in jail at year's end [2020]" (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. B1). Amnesty International states in a press release that from August to October 2020, "at least" 20 people were killed by Ethiopian security forces during their "excessive[ly]" forceful response to the "peaceful protesters" in Oromia (Amnesty International 27 Oct. 2020). For information on the situation of ethnic groups in Addis Ababa, including treatment by Oromo nationalists, see Response to Information Request ETH200765 of October 2021.

1.2 June 2021 Federal and State Assemblies Elections

Reuters reports that the elections were postponed from August 2020 to "May or June 2021" due to the COVID-19 global pandemic (Reuters 30 Oct. 2020). According to Africa Confidential, a news and analysis publication on African politics, economics, and security developments (Africa Confidential n.d.), in the lead-up to the 21 June elections, complaints of "harassment, intimidation and arrest of candidates and of opposition party supporters, … and breaking up or refusing to allow opposition rallies" were reported (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). The same source notes that the elections were characterized by attacks at polling stations, the government crackdown on Oromo opposition political parties in 2020, the cancellation of voting in "most" of the Benishangul-Gumuz region due to security concerns, the war in the Tigray, and increased tensions in the Amhara region (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). According to the New Humanitarian, a non-profit news organization focusing on humanitarian crises (The New Humanitarian n.d.), challenges related to insecurity and "a range of logistical, legal, and administrative problems" resulted in a fifth of the country's constituencies being unable to cast their vote (The New Humanitarian 21 June 2021).

According to Addis Standard, an Ethiopian English-language monthly magazine (Addis Standard 5 May 2016), several opposition political parties issued reports and statements in the lead-up to the elections alleging cases of abuse, such as musicians being arrested for composing campaign songs, beatings and arrests by the police of youth opposition supporters, intimidation of registered voters, and arbitrary detentions and harassment of candidates (Addis Standard 14 June 2021). According to sources, the OLF [and OFC coalition] decided to boycott the elections (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021; The New Humanitarian 21 June 2021).

Sources report that the Prosperity Party, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, won 410 of the 436 seats in the federal parliament (AP 10 July 2021; Reuters 10 July 2021), and the "overwhelming majority of regional council seats" (The Reporter 17 July 2021). Addis Standard notes that in the aftermath of the elections, several opposition political parties expressed complaints over the elections, including the Balderas Party that claimed that the elections were "'not free, fair and democratic'" and the Afar People's Party, which "'fully reject[s] the whole process of the election and the way it was controlled'" (Addis Standard 26 June 2021).

2. Treatment of Members of Opposition Parties

Amnesty International's report on human rights in 2020/2021 indicates that opposition members "were subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 158). According to Freedom House, authorities continued to break up political meetings and arrest political activists in 2020, most notably in Addis Ababa and the Oromia region (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. E1). A Horn of Africa researcher, cited in a UK Home Office in their report on a fact-finding mission (FFM) conducted in September 2019, indicated that political opposition groups face pressure from a multitude of actors that go beyond the central government, such as local "'"trouble makers" or gangs'" impeding the opposition groups' ability to "'operate/set up offices'," among other security challenges at the local level (UK 10 Feb. 2020, 16). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.1 Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (ECSJ, also called Ezema)

Sources indicate that Ezema is a coalition created [in May 2019] of the following opposition political parties:

  • Patriotic Ginbot [Genbot] 7,
  • Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP),
  • Semayawi Party,
  • All Ethiopian Democratic Party (AEDP),
  • Gambella Regional Movement (GRM),
  • Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) Party, and
  • New Generation Party (NGP) (The Africa Report 14 May 2019; Borkena 13 May 2019).

According to the Africa Report, a news source published by the Jeune Afrique Media Group (The Africa Report 1 Apr. 2020), the party is led by Berhanu Nega, an economics professor who has been active in Ethiopian opposition politics since the 1970s (The Africa Report 14 May 2019). The New Humanitarian reports that the Ezema is one of the three "main parties" competing in the elections, along with Abiy's ruling Prosperity Party and the Balderas Party (The New Humanitarian 21 June 2021). According to Ethiopia Insight, an online news organization covering Ethiopian political and economic issues (Ethiopia Insight n.d.), Ezema is "relatively close" to the Abiy's ruling party (Ethiopia Insight 5 Aug. 2020). Citing the Swedish Migration Agency, the DIS states that the party is "less vulnerable than other opposition groups" due to the common "political ideology" they share with Abiy's ruling party (Denmark Mar. 2021, 13). The same source reports that authorities at the federal and regional levels were "helpful" to detained Ezema members "on several occasions" and "relatively quickly" secured their release (Denmark Mar. 2021, 13). Ethiopia Insight states that an Ezema executive committee member was among the high-profile arrests of opposition political figures that followed Hachalu Hundessa's assassination in June 2020 and is on trial for "organizing and supporting youths as protests developed" (Ethiopia Insight 5 Aug. 2020). Addis Standard similarly indicates that the Ezema executive committee member was apprehended on 14 July 2020 for "coordinating violence in Addis Ab[a]ba" (Addis Standard 30 July 2020). According to an article by The Reporter, an Ethiopian daily newspaper, the chairman of the party's Oromia Regional State branch in Bishoftu City was shot dead on 14 February 2021, the day before the election campaign launch; the party claims that the incident was "politically motivated" and perpetrated by the government (The Reporter 20 Feb. 2021).

Without providing further details, according to a senior representative of Ezema interviewed in the UK Home Office FFM report, the Ethiopian government "could not always distinguish between" Ezema party members and supporters in its treatment of them (UK 10 Feb. 2020, 24). According to the DIS, citing the Swedish Migration Agency, Ezema members active in Addis Ababa, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region, and Tigray could operate "without significant challenges in October 2019" (Denmark Mar. 2021, 13). The same source notes, again citing the Swedish Migration Agency, that Ezema members operating in Amhara faced arrest in connection to the June 2019 assassinations of members of the regional government and the army, while in Oromia, members in the Wellega and Arsi zones faced threats from "informal groups, armed OLF members and lower-level government representatives" (Denmark Mar. 2021, 13).

2.2 Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)

According to an associate professor at George Mason University in the US who studies Ethiopian politics, cited by the DIS, the OFC is led by Merera Gudina, Jawar Mohammed, and Bekele Gerba (Denmark Mar. 2021, 22, 23). Sources report that opposition leaders in Oromia were arrested in the aftermath of the assassination of June 2020, including Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba [and Hamza Borena (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021)] (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021; Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 160). According to the BBC, Jawar Mohammed, an influential media mogul, was charged with terrorism for his alleged role in the ethnic violence that followed the murder of Hachalu Hundessa, charges which the opposition leader claimed were part of the government's "targeting [of] opposition figures like him" (BBC 21 Sept. 2020). According to German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), citing a professor of peace and conflict studies at Bjorknes University in Oslo, Norway, the arrest of Mohammed and Gerba "'is perceived by people in Oromia as an attempt to hijack the opposition party, and as an attempt to marginalize the opposition ahead of the election'" (DW 2 July 2020). According to the American Associate Professor cited by the DIS, the OFC leadership faces "harassment" such as "getting arrested on fabricated charges," but not "many ordinary OFC members are imprisoned, or …. experience politically motivated prosecution" (Denmark Mar. 2021, 11). Without providing further details, according to a senior representative of the OFC interviewed in the UK Home Office FFM report, despite the cooperation between the OFC and the OLF parties, "the government differentiated between the OLF and OFC, and were more agreeable to the OFC in comparison to the OLF" (UK 10 Feb. 2020, 32).

Sources report that the OFC and the OLF opposition political parties formed a coalition in September 2018 in anticipation of the upcoming federal elections (The Africa Report 14 May 2019; Africanews 11 Sept. 2018). By January 2020, Addis Standard reports that three opposition national political parties, namely the OFC, OLF, and the Oromo National Party (ONP), signed an agreement to form a regional Oromia coalition called the Coalition for Democratic Federalism (Addis Standard 4 Jan. 2020).

2.3 Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)

Amnesty International reports that in January 2020, in Oromia, 75 OLF supporters, including political activist Chaltu Takele, were arrested and held without charge for "several" months by police without being brought before a judge (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). According to the same source, the OLF's February 2020 inauguration event taking place at its Welenchiti office in Oromia was raided by local Liyu police, where "live ammunition and tear gas" was fired at attendants, and one OLF supporter was killed while "others" were beaten, and Oromia News Network's property and equipment was damaged and confiscated (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). The same source indicates that a similar raid took place later that day at an OLF launch party in the town of Burayu, where another person was killed, "scores more" were injured, and "around" 30 were detained by police, taken to a stadium, beaten, and forced "to do laps around the stadium on their knees" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

As interviewed by Addis Standard, the chairman of the OLF stated that nine OLF party members and leaders were arrested on 29 February 2020 during a gathering in a residence located in Addis Ababa, eight of which were released from custody the following day, and one of which, Abdi Regassa, an ex-rebel "who returned to Ethiopia in 2018 and subsequently became a member of OLF's Executive Committee," was still imprisoned at the time of the article despite the police "denying that he [was] even in their custody" (Addis Standard 6 Mar. 2020). Amnesty International reports that in March 2020 three OLF officials were arrested by police for taking photos of the Burayu police station and committing other traffic offences, charges that the Prosecutor dropped after finding they did not amount to criminal acts (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). The same source notes that the police continued to detain the OLF officials, stating that "their identity documents were irregular," and eventually released them all in May 2020; however, one was still detained without charges laid as of "the end of the year" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159).

According to a BBC interview with the OLF Chairman [Dawud] Ibsa as cited by Ethiopia Insight, the OLF stated that 103 of its officers and members were arrested [in the fallout from the killing of Hachalu Hundessa in June 2020] (Ethiopia Insight 5 Aug. 2020). HRW reports that, in the bout of violence that followed the June 2020 assassination, Oromia security forces "withheld the whereabouts of several [OLF] members [in custody] from their lawyers and relatives for over a month and denied [them] access to both" (HRW 15 Aug. 2020). According to Africa Confidential, OLF leaders who were arrested in the aftermath of Hachalu Hundessa's assassination were placed under house arrest again in April 2021; these leaders were Gemechu Ayana, Michael Boran, and Dawud Ibsa (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). The same source states that "over 200 OFC offices" were also shuttered in the context of the post-June 2020 crackdown, after which the OLF decided to withdraw from the 2021 elections (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021).

2.4 Balderas Party

Ethiopia Insight reports that Balderas Party [Balderas for a True Democracy; Baladera Council; Addis Ababa Caretaker Council] has "a fairly wide appeal among [its] Addis Ababa political base" (Ethiopia Insight 5 Aug. 2020). According to Norway's Landinfo, the Balderas Party was once a social movement and is led by [translation] "well-known human rights activist" Eskinder Nega (Norway 17 June 2021, 1). Ethiopia Insight states that the party was registered as a national party with the government by January 2021 (Ethiopia Insight 26 Feb. 2021).

Norway's Landinfo reports that in March 2019, the party had to cancel a planned demonstration due to the absence of police protection, despite having notified the police in advance (Norway 17 June 2021, 4). According to Amnesty International, Eskinder Nega, leader of the Balderas Party, was prohibited from holding press conferences in Addis Ababa in March and June 2019 (Amnesty International 7 June 2019). Similarly,, an Ethiopian media organization based in the US and in Ethiopia ( n.d.), quotes Eskinder Nega as stating that an October 2019 demonstration planned by the Balderas Party had to be cancelled by party leadership to not "'go against law and order and … to stop the arrest against members of the [party]'," despite allegedly having obtained permission to demonstrate ( 13 Oct. 2019).

Sources report that Eskinder Nega was arrested in July 2020 in connection with the violent aftermath of the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa (Ethiopia Insight 20 Sept. 2020) and was charged with terrorism in September 2020 (Ethiopia Insight 20 Sept. 2020; Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 160). Other sources report that along with Nega, four "leading Balderas officials" (Ethiopia Insight 20 Sept. 2020) or [translation] "four other leading figures" (Norway 17 June 2021, 4) were also arrested and charged (Ethiopia Insight 20 Sept. 2020; Norway 17 June 2021, 4). According to Norway's Landinfo, their trial was ongoing as of June 2021 (Norway 17 June 2021, 4).

3. Armed Factions of Opposition Political Parties

According to the Africa Report, "a good number of the opposition parties in play [for the then-upcoming 2020 federal elections] had armed wings just one year ago" (The Africa Report 14 May 2019).

3.1 Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)

Al Jazeera reports that an armed faction of the OLF, led by Kumsa Diriba [Kaal Marroo] and seeking self-determination for the Oromo people of Ethiopia, the country's largest ethnic group, formally broke off from the OLF in 2020, and is now known as the OLA [OLF Shane; OLF Shene; Waraana Bilisummaa Oromoo (WBO)] (Al Jazeera 11 Aug. 2021). Conversely, according to the Reporter, the OLF, then considered a terrorist organization, and the government signed a peace agreement in August 2018, to which an armed faction of the OLF did not agree and eventually broke off to form the "OLF's army a.k.a. Waraana Bilisummaa Oromoo (WBO)" in April 2019 (The Reporter 6 Apr. 2019).

Media sources report that security problems have persisted in West Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz Regional State and that the peace agreement was not implemented (Ethiopia Insight 1 Mar. 2019; The Reporter 6 Apr. 2019). According to US Country Reports 2020, the OLA has factions in western, central, and southern Oromia (US 30 Mar. 2021, 3).

In a case reported by the same source, 17 OLA members were accused of being responsible for the kidnapping of 17 university students in December 2019 in western Oromia, who were still missing at the end of 2020 (US 30 Mar. 2021, 4). According to the same report, the OLA was also allegedly responsible for the killings of civilian and government officials in the violence that took place after the killing of a famous Oromo singer in June 2020 (US 30 Mar. 2021, 2–3). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. An Al Jazeera article, citing reporting by Reuters, indicates that the OLA was reportedly accused by the government to be behind an attack on Amharas, the second-largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, in a village in Oromia, where gunmen killed "at least" 30 civilians (Al Jazeera 31 Mar. 2021). Citing an EHRC report from 26 August 2021, Signal Risk, a risk management consultancy firm which provides daily incident reporting and in-depth analysis on security developments across Africa (Signal Risk n.d.), reports that "a wave of [ethnic-based] deadly violence," which occurred between 18 and 19 August 2021 and was triggered by targeted attacks against Amhara civilians by the OLA, claimed the lives of over 210 people in the East Wollega of Oromia (Signal Risk 31 Aug. 2021).

Africa Confidential reports that during the 2021 federal and state assemblies' elections, the OLA "was accused of attacking a couple of polling stations near Ambo, 120 kilometres west of Addis Ababa" (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). The same source notes that the group has since been classified as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). Similarly, the Associated Press (AP) reported in August 2021 that the OLA has been designated a terrorist organization and also allied itself militarily "weeks" previous with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which also has been designated as a terrorist organization by the government (AP 11 Aug. 2021).

In its report on human rights violations committed by Ethiopian security forces in Oromia and Amhara regions in 2019, Amnesty International documented the "extrajudicial" killings of six people since January 2019, including three minors, who were suspected OLA supporters (Amnesty International 28 May 2020, 17–18). According to Norway Landinfo's correspondence with a professor and director at Oslo Analytica [1] (Norway 6 Jan. 2021, 32), who conducted fieldwork in Oromia in the spring and summer of 2020, the distinction between OLF members and the [translation] "ordinary" population in Oromia region "has been more or less erased, and, potentially, anybody can be branded as OLF," leading to a "growing degree" of "collective punishment of the population" (Norway 6 Jan. 2021, 23). The same source adds that accusations of OLA affiliation have been deployed by the authorities to [translation] "strike" against all forms of political opposition, "regardless of whether individuals or groups" have ties to the OLA "in reality" (Norway 6 Jan. 2021, 23).

3.2 Ginbot 7

According to Al Jazeera, Berhanu Nega [the current leader of the Ezema Party (The Africa Report 14 May 2019)], was once leader of a "rebel group" called Ginbot 7 [Patriotic Genbot 7; PG7], "an outlawed opposition group formed after a disputed election in 2005 … [that] has claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks in the past," and lived outside of Ethiopia until 2018 (Al Jazeera 5 July 2018). The Africa Report indicates that Nega moved to Eritrea in 2014 as leader of Ginbot 7 and engaged in "both violent and non-violent" activities (The Africa Report 14 May 2019). Similarly, Reuters reports in a November 2018 article that the leader "was coordinating attacks against Ethiopian soldiers from his base across the border in Eritrea" (Reuters 7 Nov. 2018).

4. State Protection
4.1 Judiciary

According to a country information report on Ethiopia by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Ethiopia, the judiciary has historically been influenced by the ruling political party and members of opposition political parties were "routinely" detained (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 5.20). The same source indicates that the Advisory Council for Legal and Justice Affairs is an entity established to strengthen the judiciary's independence (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 5.20). According to Addis Standard, the Advisory Council is the body responsible for the "mainstay of the reform effort" from the previous "authoritarian structures" and is in its "early stages" of developing reform packages and drafting laws that, thus far, have included the legal frameworks on freedom of assembly, right to demonstration, establishment of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the EHRC, and political party registration, among others (Addis Standard 27 Feb. 2020). The same source notes that the "independent" body includes 168 lawyers and other professionals, 160 of which are volunteers, allowing the Council to not be "dependent on funding institutions" (Addis Standard 27 Feb. 2020). According to Australia's DFAT, while judges are still poorly compensated and judicial corruption remains, the corruption is "not considered prevalent," and government efforts to tackle corruption and bolster the judiciary's independence, including through judicial appointments that are not contingent on "one's political affiliation," are "genuine," as well as a "long-term undertaking" to see results (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 521, 522). In an example reported by the same source, the Ethiopian president appointed to the Presidency of the Federal Supreme Court a "prominent lawyer and women's rights activist with no formal affiliation" to the ruling party, and they have since focused on strengthening judiciary independence and combatting corruption (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 5.20).

According to US Country Reports 2020, the EHRC is the investigative authority for filing a complaint of human rights abuses perpetrated by a government entity (US 30 Mar. 2021, 10). The same source notes that the EHRC, overseen by parliament, makes "recommendations" to the concerned government agency following investigations, reports on the country's human rights situation, and was given jurisdiction to observe the 2021 elections (US 30 Mar. 2021, 10, 21–22). According to US Country Reports 2020, following the arrests of opposition political leaders in the aftermath of the June 2020 killing of Hachalu Hundessa, the EHRC paid visits to the imprisoned leaders "at least three times," and found that "opposition leaders were provided the same protections as other detainees" (US 30 Mar. 2021, 10).

In contrast, Amnesty International states that authorities held opposition politicians in prolonged pre-trial detention for several months without charge, "frequently" defying court orders that granted bail to some (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). According to HRW, the police took measures outside of the confines of the law during the detention of the opposition political party figures, including "repeatedly appeal[ing] or seem[ing] to ignore bail orders, request[ing] more time to investigate, or transferr[ing] suspects between police authorities, some with overlapping jurisdictions, without informing relatives or counsel" (HRW 15 Aug. 2020). The same source notes that the OFC and the Balderas Party leaders were detained for a month in June 2020 before a preliminary inquiry was opened by the attorney general, "a process which allows the prosecutor to proceed with a case before a decision to proceed to a full trial is taken, and can continue to keep accused in custody on remand" (HRW 15 Aug. 2020). An American researcher cited by the DIS stated that the multiple arrests of opposition political figures that followed the June 2020 assassination represent the ruling party's use of "the judicial system as a way of weakening its political opponents," just as the previous ruling party did in the past (Denmark Mar. 2021, 8).

4.2 Legislation

According to the NEBE's website, the organization is responsible for "[r]egistering political parties, following-up and supervising them in accordance with the law," among other election-related duties (Ethiopia n.d.b). Sources indicate that a former political opposition leader and judge was appointed by the government to the role of head of the NEBE (The Africa Report 14 May 2019; Denmark Mar. 20201, 6) in November 2018 (Denmark Mar. 2021, 6). According to Africa Confidential, the NEBE has "largely ignored" allegations of electoral repression during the 2021 elections, such as the apprehension of opposition party leaders (Africa Confidential 24 June 2021). Addis Standard reports that the OLF claims the NEBE has failed to respond to multiple complaints it has submitted against the "government's continued blockade of its headquarters in Addis Ab[a]ba using police forces and the closure of several of its branch offices in various places" to place "undue pressure" on the opposition party's ability to participate in the 2021 elections (Addis Standard 23 Jan. 2021).

Sources report that in the first half of 2020, the government adopted a new anti-terrorism law that guaranteed more protections for the rights of the accused of terrorism (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159; US 30 Mar. 2021, 8). According to Amnesty International, the law also included provisions that "restricted the right to freedom of expression" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). Freedom House reports that in February 2020, the Ethiopian government passed a hate speech law "that makes the intentional publication, distribution, and possession of false information illegal" (Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. D1). According to Amnesty International, the law "criminalized people for exercising their right to freedom of expression" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 159). US Country Reports 2020 indicates that Ethiopian human rights organizations "criticized the law for using broad legal definitions that could be used to repress freedom of speech" (US 30 Mar. 2021, 12).

4.3 Political Participation and Reconciliation

According to Australia's DFAT, since 2018, over 10,000 political prisoners were freed as political freedoms were expanded by the previous governments (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 3.35). The same source notes that over 13,000 individuals were granted amnesty for crimes against the state (Australia 12 Aug. 2020, para. 3.35). Sources report that the government also removed the OLF from the country's list of terrorist organizations in July 2018 (Al Jazeera 5 July 2018; US 13 Mar. 2019, 16). Al Jazeera states that in 2018, charges against Bernahu Nega for their involvement in an assassination plot were dropped by prosecutors and Ginbot 7 was removed from the country's terrorist organizations list (Al Jazeera 5 July 2018). US Country Reports 2020 indicates that as of December of 2020, 78 registered political parties were permitted to participate in the parliamentary elections, including those who agreed to lay their arms and "return and pursue nonviolent struggle" (US 30 Mar. 2021, 18–19). According to Addis Standard, by the end of December 2020, 26 opposition political parties' registrations were cancelled for non-compliance with the NEBE's political parties' regulations, reducing the number of registered political parties to 40, included among them the [Ezema], the OFC, the OLF, and the Balderas Party (Addis Standard 25 Dec. 2020). US Country Reports 2020 notes that political parties must report "public meetings" and obtain permission from regional government for both public rallies and to open and operate from local offices (US 30 Mar. 2021, 19).

Sources report that the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission (ERC) was set up in 2019 to address "past injustices, violations and recurring conflicts" (ISS Apr. 2021, 1) or to "maintain peace[,] justice, national unity and consensus and also Reconciliation among Ethiopian Peoples" (Ethiopia 5 Feb. 2019). The ISS notes that the Commission "still grapples with major challenges," such as an inadequately specific mandate, and needs "its powers, capabilities and independence enhanced," as well as its institutional setup, and membership composition revisited (ISS Apr. 2021, 1). Sources state that the establishment of the ERC, namely its founding objective and appointment of its commissioners, were done without meaningful public engagement (Amnesty International 28 May 2020, 12; ISS Apr. 2021, 4), including with leaders of opposition political parties, and operates in the absence of "a negotiated political agreement among elites" in the country (ISS Apr. 2021, 4, 14). Efforts to address political conflicts made by the ERC, notes the ISS, are "futile," due to the "deeply political" roots of current communal conflicts in the country, reflected in "the disagreement among the higher political elite" (ISS Apr. 2021, 14).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] Oslo Analytica is an independent research and consultancy organization based in Norway (Oslo Analytica n.d.).


Addis Standard. 26 June 2021. Siyanne Mekonnen. "News: Five Opposition Parties Who Participated in this Week's General Election Complain About Electoral Process." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021]

Addis Standard. 14 June 2021. Mahlet Fasil. "News: Seven National and Regional Opposition Political Parties Complain About Electoral Process, Call for Action." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021]

Addis Standard. 23 January 2021. Medihane Ekubamichael. "News: OLF Says Electoral Board's Failure to Address Its Repeated Complaints on Gov't Crackdown Restricting Its Ability to Participate in Elections." [Accessed 26 Aug. 2021]

Addis Standard. 25 December 2020. Medihane Ekubamichael. "News Analysis: Following Purge of Political Parties for 'Failing to Meet Requirements' and Amid Complains of Opposition Crackdown Electoral Board to Unveil Election Draft Timetable." [Accessed 15 Sept. 2021]

Addis Standard. 30 July 2020. Mahlet Fasil. "News Update: Inside the Trial of Ethiopia's Opposition Politicians." [Accessed 14 Sept. 2021]

Addis Standard. 6 March 2020. Zecharias Zelalem. "News: Unlawful Arrests Reminiscent of Ethiopia's Unchanged Politics: OLF Chairman." [Accessed 15 Sept. 2021]

Addis Standard. 27 February 2020. Abadir M. Ibrahim and Abduletif Kedir Idris. "Profile: The Silent Fighters: The Volunteers Behind Ethiopia's Democratic Reforms." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2021]

Addis Standard. 4 January 2020. Etenesh Abera. "News: OFC, OLF, and ONP Agree to Form 'Coalition for Democratic Federalism'." [Accessed 2 Sept. 2021]

Addis Standard. 5 May 2016. "About Us." [Accessed 9 Sept. 2021]

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Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Ethiopia – Ethiopian Human Rights Commission; Ethiopian Human Rights Council; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; professor of global migration and transnational politics at an American university whose research focuses on conflict management and political reconciliation in Ethiopia, among other African countries; professor of political science and international relations at an Ethiopian university whose research focuses on conflict management and migration.

Internet sites, including: Agence France-Presse; Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project; Austrian Red Cross – Austrian Centre for Country of Origin & Asylum Research and Documentation;; Ethiopia – Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission; Ethiopian News Agency; EthioPoint; EU – European Asylum Support Office; Foreign Policy; Germany – Federal Office for Migration and Refugees; The Guardian; Jeune Afrique; Sudan Tribune; Voice of America; UN – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Refworld; The Washington Post.