Ethiopia: Dissenting voices take to the streets
The uprising is the first public protest since 2005, and analysts believe it reveals growing disapproval of the stringent administration of the Ethiopian government under Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
Ethiopia’s governing party, the EPRDF, has maintained heavy-handed control over public life since the killing of hundreds of protesters in 2005 under the leadership of Meles Zenawi.
Ethiopia’s stringent anti-press freedom and anti-oppositional approach of the EPRDF have continued under Desalegn.
The country’s 500-plus parliamentary seats count only one opposition member.
On Sunday, however, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, demanding the release of jailed journalists and activists.
“We need freedom,” and “We need justice,” placards read.
The marching Ethiopians also demanded government action on unemployment, inflation and corruption in Ethiopia.
Some Muslim activists who had been leading criticism of the government are currently in prison on terrorism charges.
Many of the protesters on Sunday were Muslims who have been protesting alleged government meddling in their religion.
“In the 21st century, when the rest of the world is freely exercising its rights, here in Ethiopia the daily news is ‘this person got arrested’. ‘That person received a life sentence’. This has to end,” Yacob Hailemariam, a former United Nations prosecutor, addressed the demonstrators.
The size and manner of the protests suggest a brooding revolution because it is the first show of disapproval against the government in eight years.
“They say the youth has worn out. I disagree. Once again the youth has to be a force change and it should take over to lead (an) opposition group to end the ruling party’s dictatorship that has turned the country into a hell for us … we can repeat 2005,” Yacob chanted.
Human rights groups argue that the Ethiopian government has used a 2009 anti-terrorism law as an excuse to imprison members of the opposition and the press.
“I don’t care about politics. I don’t care if they [the ruling party] rule forever but I would die for my religion. I am here to demand the release of our representatives. We won’t stop until they are free,” Reuters quoted a young protester who would only identify himself as Ahmed.
The protests were organised by the opposition Semayawi (blue) party, and championed by party chairman Yilekal Getachew and Yacob.
Ethiopians held pictures of jailed journalists, activists, political leaders and even covers of banned newspapers.
However, the government denies holding any political prisoners.
Demonstrators told reporters the revolution would continue until the government released journalists, activists, and Muslim leaders and annulled unconstitutional legislations.