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Ethiopia: Human rights defenders held for documenting forced evictions must be released immediately

The Ethiopian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release four human rights defenders who were detained solely for their work documenting forced evictions in an area south of Addis Ababa and drop all charges against them, Amnesty International said today.

Daniel Tesfaye, Bizuayehu Wendimu, Bereket Daniel and Nahom Hussien, who work for the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), were arrested on 5 January in the Alem Bank area south of Addis Ababa while investigating cases of forced evictions. The police accused them of not having the necessary permission to carry out their work.

They were simply carrying out the important work of documenting forced evictions of poorer residents of Addis Ababa.

Tigere Chagutah, East and Southern Africa Regional Director, Amnesty International 

“These four human rights defenders did not commit a single recognizable criminal offence. They were simply carrying out the important work of documenting forced evictions of poorer residents. They should never have been detained in the first place and should be released immediately and unconditionally. Nobody should be criminalized for carrying out crucial human rights work,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“By brazenly arresting these four human rights defenders, the Ethiopian authorities are clearly trying to prevent them from exposing the cruelty of the state’s ongoing forced evictions and to deter others from engaging in human rights work.”

The four, Daniel Tesfaye, Bizuayehu Wendimu, Bereket Daniel and Nahom Hussien were charged on 6 January with conducting human rights monitoring without permission from the police, which is not a crime under Ethiopian law. The police, who also seized their vehicle, said they were talking to victims of forced evictions without a support letter from their own organization. They are currently being held at Gelan Guda Police station.

By brazenly arresting these four human rights defenders, Ethiopian authorities are clearly trying to prevent them from exposing the cruelty of the state’s ongoing forced evictions in Addis Ababa.

Tigere Chagutah

Following their 6 January court appearance, the police asked the court to keep the human rights defenders in detention and denied their request to be released on bail. The court granted police’s request to hold them in custody until 11 January even though the police were unable to name a law that the human rights defenders had broken to justify their continued detention.

According to the EHRCO, the police told the organization that they are not allowed to carry out human rights investigations in the region, and that only humanitarian assistance is permitted.

“The Ethiopian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release these four human rights defenders and ensure that they do not face any reprisals for their human rights work. The authorities must urgently stop the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and ensure they can work in a safe and enabling environment,” said Tigere Chagutah.

Background

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) has been defending human rights in Ethiopia for the past three decades and continues to do so. Amnesty International Germany awarded the organization their Human Rights Award in 2022 in recognition of the organization’s selfless human rights advocacy.