Ethiopia unrest in Amhara region prompts allegations of mass arrests and human rights violations

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The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported Monday that there have been mass arrests in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, amid instability in the northern Amhara region of the country. Suspects are reportedly being detained at police stations, schools, and temporary detention facilities, according to lawyers and eyewitness information from a local news source.

According to eyewitness testimony, an ethnic Amhara man was arrested by plainclothes police officers shortly after they overheard him discussing the unrest in the Amhara region on his phone. He and hundreds of others were detained at a school before being transferred to a police station. Authorities eventually released him without charging him. Another individual said his brother was arrested in the capital before the state of emergency was declared. He mentioned that the majority of those held in custody were young boys.

Since the government announced a state of emergency on August 4, 2023, the EHRC has recorded several human rights violations. According to the commission:

EHRC has confirmed that there was heavy fighting in and around cities and towns across the Amhara region, which involved the use of heavy artillery resulting in the deaths and injuries of civilians, as well as damage to property. There have been cases where protestors including civilians who attempted to block roads were killed. Prisons and police stations in the region were broken into, weapons and ammunition were looted, and pre-trial detainees and prisoners escaped.

The EHRC additionally highlighted credible allegations of shelling and airstrikes in Debre Birhan, Finote Selam, and Burie, resulting in deaths and property damage. The commission called for a halt to the violence and has urged the federal government to stop all arbitrary arrests and detentions, free all detainees, and provide the commission access to all incarceration facilities.

The federal government has refuted the charges made by lawyers and witnesses. The administration stated that only 23 people had been arrested, including opposition lawmaker, Christian Tadele. Ongoing skirmishes between militia and FANO Amhara youth militants have led to the establishment of a six-month state of emergency. The EHRC has advised the federal government to limit the state of emergency to the affected areas for one month rather than six.