(Nairobi) – The Ethiopian government should allow an independent, international investigation to determine how scores of people were killed at the country’s Irreecha festival on October 2, 2016, Human Rights Watch said in a question-and-answer document about the issue. Unprecedented, large-scale anti-government protests have been sweeping through Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, since November 2015, and the Amhara region since July 2016. On October 2, in Bishoftu, a town 40 kilometers southeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, tensions ignited at the annual Irreecha festival – an important cultural event that draws millions of people each year. Security forces confronted huge crowds with tear gas and fired shots, inducing panic. Scores died during a stampede of people fleeing security forces.
Ethiopian security forces have killed more than 500 people during protests over the course of the last year. These protests have occurred in a context of the near-total closure of political space. Nongovernmental groups and the independent media face harassment, surveillance, and criminal charges.
Ethiopians should be able to criticize their government without fear of arrest, Human Rights Watch said. Security forces should exercise restraint and be held accountable for abuses.
“The world should be carefully watching what is happening in Ethiopia,” said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “As more and more people are killed in protests this year, the government should urgently change course to prevent more bloodshed.”