In Ethiopia, human rights defenders (HRDs) work in extremely difficult conditions marked by threats, acts of intimidation, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, judicial harassment, and arbitrary arrests. Repressive legislation passed in recent years has been successful in silencing civil society. Severe restrictions on external funding continue to undermine the work and effectiveness of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Several human rights defenders and journalists were forced to flee the country and those who remained practised self-censorship for fear of attack or harassment.
Repeated arrests and intimidation have generated a climate of fear among HRDs and this further limited their work. HRDs are often accused of terrorism, of having a political agenda, being “messengers of Western governments”, and this comes either in form of verbal attacks and smear campaigns or of formal criminal charges. International human rights organisations have been denied access and are subjected to smear campaigns much like their local partners. HRDs working for the rule of law, human rights education and awareness, documentation of human rights abuses, and prison monitoring, have been particularly targeted. Defenders involved in monitoring the justice system, court proceedings and the observance of due process during criminal proceedings, have also been targeted, subjected to physical harassment and often denied the right to observe public court proceedings.
Journalists reporting on democracy and human rights issues, and denouncing corruption have been subjected to harassment, arrests and criminalisation under the anti-terror legislation. There have been constant reports of torture and ill-treatment during interrogation of arrested journalists.