Ethiopian authorities have been accused of using the COVID-19 outbreak and a state of emergency declared on April 8, as an opportunity to silence critical voices and limit free speech.
The accusation was made by a prominent rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a statement on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said:
“A new state of emergency declared on April 8, 2020, gives the government sweeping powers to respond to the pandemic, heightening concerns of further arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of journalists and government critics.”
HRW also cited the detention of Elizabeth Kebede, a volunteer lawyer with the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association, one of the leading women’s rights groups in the country, who is accused of “disseminating false news in Facebook posts.”Furthermore, the watchdog urged the Ethiopian authorities to drop charges against Yayesew Shimelis, a journalist who criticised the government’s response to COVID-19 outbreak on social media, and is being accused of violating anti-terrorism law.
Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW, said, as quoted in the statement, “The authorities should drop charges against Yayesew Shimelis, release Elizabeth Kebede, and stop detaining people for peacefully expressing their views.”
Ethiopia has recorded 145 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four coronavirus-related fatalities.