Ethiopia denounced yesterday a rights group report that accused it of cracking down on the opposition and restricting the work of aid agencies ahead of national elections in May.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) annual report said Ethiopia jails opposition members and has passed laws that outlaw most human rights organisations.
“Ethiopia is on a deteriorating human rights trajectory as parliamentary elections approach in 2010,” the report said.
“Broad patterns of government repression have prevented the emergence of organized opposition in most of the country,” it added.
HRW also condemned the jailing of opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa. She was imprisoned in 2005 and released in a 2007 pardon deal but was rearrested in December 2009 after she said she had never asked for a pardon.
Government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal rejected the findings, telling Reuters: “Most of this report is based on fabrications from the Medrek (opposition party) and the ONLF rebel group.
“We don’t have any policy of suppressing opposition. But nobody is above the rule of law in Ethiopia, whether members of the opposition or not.”
The elections will be the first since a disputed 2005 poll ended in violence when about 200 opposition protesters were killed on the streets by police and soldiers.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said they had been marching on state buildings to oust him.
Ethiopia in January passed a law governing the activities of charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country.
Foreign organisations and local groups with more than 10 % foreign funding were banned from working on human rights and governance.
“West is silent”
The HRW report said Western countries were silent on repression in Ethiopia in order to protect multi-million-dollar aid projects and singled out the US and Britain for criticism.
Ethiopia is one of the world’s biggest recipients of foreign aid and received more than $2 billion in 2009, HRW said.
“The UK has been at the forefront of advocacy on a range of human rights issues in Ethiopia, including Birtukan Mideksa’s imprisonment and allegations of the politicisation of aid,” British Ambassador to Ethiopia Normal Ling told Reuters.
Opposition coalition Medrek in November said the government was blocking its members from getting food aid to force them to join the ruling party.
More than 13 million of the country’s 80 million people need aid this year. Analysts say Meles’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will easily win the elections.
Pic: Ethiopian Prime Minister- Melez Zenawi