WE EXIST TO STRENGTHEN CIVIL SOCIETY AND CITIZEN ACTION
AROUND THE WORLD
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
24 July 2014
Re: Detained Journalists and Bloggers
Dear Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn,
We write to you to express our grave concern regarding the terrorism charges laid against seven bloggers associated with the “Zone 9” website and three independent journalists in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights—which both expressly protect the right to freedom of expression. We therefore urge your government to fulfill its obligations under international law and release all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in violation of their fundamental rights.
As you may be aware, six of the bloggers (Zelalem Kibret, Atnaf Berahane, Natnael Feleke, Mahlet Fantahun, Befeqadu Hailu, and Abel Wabela) and the three journalists (Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, and Edom Kassaye) were arrested in late April, shortly after it was announced that the Zone 9 website would resume its activities after suspending operations because of increasing harassment and surveillance. All nine detainees were subsequently held for nearly three months before any specific allegations were presented or formal charges filed against them. Most concerning, however, are reports that some of the detainees have complained of serious mistreatment by investigators and that defense lawyers and their clients have been excluded from some of the proceedings.
16 July 2014, London – A group of 29 NGOs have sent a letter to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Phillip Hammond, urging a shift in UK policy towards the situation in Bahrain.
The letter calls for a ‘fresh’ approach to be adopted by the new Foreign Secretary in light of the FCO’s failure to heed a Foreign Affairs Committee recommendation that the U.K. should “designate Bahrain as a country of concern” in its 2014 human rights report if the situation had not improved by the start of this year. Despite this recommendation, the FCO subsequently failed to acknowledge Bahrain as a country of concern, and instead, listed it as a “case study” praising specific areas of reform.
The letter highlights the inconsistencies in UK policy towards Bahrain in recent years, specifically referencing recent statements made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, who claimed that the human rights situation in Bahrain is a situation of “grave concern” and that recommendations made by the 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry are in a “state of non-implementation”.
Laurent Munyandilikirwa, former president of Rwandan CSO, LIPRODHOR, speaks to CIVICUS about the state of civil society in Rwanda and the government’s continued targeted harassment of LIPRODHOR.
1. At the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, CIVICUS co-hosted an event which examined the growing restrictions on civil society in East Africa. Can you tell us a bit about the main challenges faced by civil society in Rwanda?
Although Rwanda has ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR and the Rwandan Constitution enshrines the principles essential to creating an enabling environment for civil society including the rights to expression, assembly and association, independent civil society groups continues to be subjected to unjust restrictions. While the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in the constitution, the government is simultaneously attempting to silence the very people working on the implementation of these rights.
The government restricts the work of CSOs through a number of legal obstacles including overly bureaucratic registration processes, unwarranted limitations on financial funding, and laws permitting excessive and broad interception of information and communication. Such laws hugely impact the daily activities and operations of civil society organisations, in particular those working on civil and political rights. As a result of these and other extra-legal measures, civil society organizations in Rwanda have been forced into a downward spiral: the increasing control exerted over them by the government increases their overhead expenses while it decreases their access to funding, which in turn diminishes their ability to execute projects that attract new financial support. If this continues in the long term, the survival of independent human rights organisations in Rwanda is looking increasingly doubtful.