Human Rights watch in a report released in Nairobi on Wednesday warned the Ethiopian government is waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opposition, journalist and rights activists ahead of the May 2010 elections.

The 59-page report, shows how the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) has systematically punished opposition supporters, the report also documents how recently enacted laws severely restrict the activities of civil society and the media.

“Expressing dissent is very dangerous in Ethiopia,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The ruling party and the state are becoming one, and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence.”

Government repression has caused many civil society activists and journalists to flee the country in recent months. The most prominent independent newspaper was closed in December 2009 and the government jammed Voice of America radio broadcasts last month. Ethiopians are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge their government’s policies – whether through peaceful protest, voting, or publishing their views – without fear of reprisal.

“Since 2005, state resources have also been used to press individuals to join the ruling party so that they can benefit from access to services, jobs, and economic activity,” said the 59-page report, citing more than 200 interviews in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is heavily dependent on foreign assistance which counts for one-third of all government expenditures. Donors argue that they have to work with the government to gain access to millions of needy Ethiopians, but Gagnon urges donors to channel aid in different ways and demand independent reviews of the way aid money is used.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Ethiopian government to take urgent steps to improve the electoral environment by immediately releasing all political prisoners, including Birtukan. Human Rights Watch also calls on the government to publicly order all officials and EPRDF members to cease attacks and threats against members of the political opposition, civil society, and the media; and permit independent efforts, including by international electoral observers, to investigate and publicly report on abuses.

The rights group and other activists say the government has also suppressed the media, Zenawi recently admitted that Voice of America’s Amharic channel had been jammed.

Around 200 protestors were shot following the last elections in 2005 and an unknown number of opposition figures, including Birtukan Mideksa, head of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, remain Imprisoned.

Ethiopia, an ally of the US in fighting terrorism in the region, has consistently denied such accusations and accuses of Human Rights Watch of trying to smear its name.



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