Addis Ababa Massacre in 2001

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Ethiopian security forces have used excessive force in dealing with student protests and are using the protests as an excuse for cracking down on all government critics.

The government’s heavy-handed tactics have enflamed what began as a peaceful local student protest into a violent national crisis,” said Saman Zia-Zarifi, Human Rights Watch’s Academic Freedom Director. “The attacks on academic freedom have now degenerated into a wholesale assault on civil society in Ethiopia.”

On the morning of May 8, armed security forces arrested Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam and Berhanu Nega, both prominent academics and human rights activists. Prof. Mesfin, who was fired from his teaching position in 1991, was a founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a monitoring organization. His detention follows that of several dozen members of civil and political groups critical of the Ethiopian government. Authorities claim these opposition figures instigated the recent student protests.

However, eyewitness testimony and information from local sources indicate that Ethiopian authorities responded with brutal violence to students demanding greater academic freedom, and are now using the ensuing crisis to justify a general crackdown on figures critical of the government.

Security forces attacked students at Addis Ababa University on April 11, injuring more than fifty students. A week later, at least forty people were killed during raids at the university by heavily armed members of the Special Forces branch of the security forces. Eyewitnesses claim that the police raid on students escalated into widespread riots around Addis Ababa as protesters disaffected with government policies joined the clashes in support of the students.

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