Ethiopia has banned access to foreign-based opposition media and restricted foreign diplomats’ travel, in new provisions of a state of emergency.
The government declared the six-month state of emergency eight days ago, stepping up its response to an unprecedented wave of protests against its authoritarian rule which has left hundreds dead.
New restrictions published in local media on Sunday also include a 50-kilometre (30-mile) “red zone” adjacent to the country’s borders in which it is illegal to carry firearms. The areas around several key roads have also been declared red zones.
Foreign diplomats are forbidden from travelling more than 40 kilometres outside the capital, Addis Ababa, “for their own security”.
“This is a state of emergency and we expect repressive measures,” a western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday.
“But we also expect an opening of the political space for the opposition as stated by the president in front of the parliament. This is not what seems to be happening,” the diplomat added.
The measures include a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew around factories, farms and government institutions, which have come under attack from protesters in recent weeks.
Political parties are “banned from giving press statements that incite violence” and religious leaders are forbidden from making political statements.
Security forces are banned from going on holiday or resigning their jobs.
The measures also make it illegal to watch television stations set up by the diaspora such as Ethiopian Satellite television (ESAT) and the US-based Oromia Media Network (OMN).
Posting links from these organisations’ websites onto social media has also been declared a “criminal activity”.
Cellphone internet access has been cut for almost three weeks in most parts of the country, including the capital.
“There is a pressing concern that the Ethiopian authorities will need even less of a pretext to prevent foreign journalists from doing their work during the state of emergency,” said Will Davison, head of the Foreign Press Association, an informal gathering of foreign correspondents in Ethiopia.
On Friday an AFP photographer was stopped in the central town of Sebeta — in the restive Oromia region — and taken to the police station before being released.
The country’s Oromo and Amhara communities — which together make up 60 percent of the population — have been protesting for nearly a year against marginalisation by a government largely made up of minority Tigrayans, which controls power and the economy.
The latest surge in violence came after police fired tear gas at protesters attending an Oromo religious festival on October 2, sparking panic in a massive crowd and triggering a stampede that left over 50 dead.
International rights groups estimate the government crackdown has left more than 500 dead.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn promised last week to reform the electoral system and “open up political space”.
Seven Things Banned Under Ethiopia’s State of Emergency
By BBC News,
Ethiopia’s government has declared a six-month state of emergency in the face of an unprecedented wave of violent protests.
Activists in the country’s Oromia region has been holding demonstrations since last November, and protesters from the Amhara region have also joined in.
The deaths of at least 55 people at an Oromo religious festival on 2 October triggered fresh unrest, including the targeting of some foreign-owned businesses.
Rights groups say that at least 500 people have died during the protests overall and last week Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that could be an accurate estimate.
The emergency was announced earlier this month but the government has now made clear what this means in practical terms.
Here are some of the things that are restricted:
1. Social Media
You cannot use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to contact what are called “outside forces”. In fact, any attempt to communicate with “terrorist organisations and anti-peace groups designated as terrorist” is banned.
Protesters have been posting messages and mobile phone footage to social media and websites run by Ethiopian dissidents living abroad.
The government has accused Eritrea and Egypt of fomenting the protests.
2. Broadcast Media
You cannot watch the TV channels ESAT and OMN, which are both based outside the country. The government has described them as “belonging to terrorist organisations”. These broadcasters have become some of the major sources for people wanting to know more about the protests.
You cannot organise a demonstration at your school or university, neither can you be involved in a political campaign that is “likely to cause disturbances, violence, hatred and distrust among the people”.
University campuses were among the first places to be hit by the wave of anti-government protests.
You cannot make a political gesture, such as crossing your arms above your head, or communicate a political message to the public “without permission”.
The crossing-arms gesture has been seen widely at the protests in Oromia, and even made it to the Olympics when marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa used it as he crossed the line in second place in Rio in August.
You cannot visit a factory, farm or governmental institution between 6pm and 6am the next day. If you violate the curfew than “law enforcement bodies have been authorized to take the necessary action”.
Government buildings and private businesses, some of them foreign owned, have been deliberately targeted by some of the protesters.
If you are a diplomat you are not allowed to travel more than 40km (25 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa, without permission. The government says that this is for your own safety.
In general, the diplomatic reaction to the protests and the state of emergency has been muted. The US has said that it is “troubled” by any restrictions on the freedom of expression in the state of emergency, but, like other western powers has called for peaceful dialogue to solve the country’s problems.
Ethiopia is a close ally of the US against Islamist militancy in neighbouring Somalia.
If you have a gun, you cannot take it within 25km of the country’s main roads out of Addis Ababa, and within 50km of the country’s borders, even if you have a permit to carry it.