Ethiopian government security forces have killed 140 protesters [text] in the Oromia region despite December reports of only five deaths, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday. The protesters began demonstrations in November against the government’s plan to expand the country’s capitol, Addis Ababa, onto farmland and property occupied by approximately 2 million Oromia people. HRW also claims that the government has been arbitrarily arresting politicians, like Bekele Gerba [Reuters report], and ordinary citizens who support the movement. The group also raised concerns over how excessive force and arrests impact the “long-term stability” of the country. HRW called for the release of those detained and that the government take responsibility for its use of force and allow for peaceful protests.
In December HRW reported that activists had witnessed security forces firing into throngs of protesters [HRW report]. That report came a day after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn [BBC profile], warned [IBT report] of “merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilising the area.” Ethiopian officials have been claiming that the demonstrations are a front for those involved in the protests to insight violence and threaten the stability of the nation. The government labeled the primarily peaceful activists as “terrorists” as a means to justify the call for force. Ethiopia has used its broad anti-terrorism laws to detain political opposition before. In October five Ethiopian bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges relating to publications on their website [Zone9, in Amharic]. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in jail [JURIST report], and one charged in absentia, in April 2014, for violation of the laws. That same month UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson [official profile] expressed concern [press release] over the rising use of counter-terrorism measures around the world [JURIST report]. Many nations have used counter-terrorism as an excuse to restrict public assembly and stop the activities of public interest groups, Emmerson said.