At least 100 people were shot dead and hundreds more injured when security forces in Ethiopia fired live bullets at peaceful protesters across the Oromia and Amhara regions over the weekend, Amnesty International reported today.
Thousands of protesters turned out in Oromia and Amhara – Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic communities – to demand political reform, justice, the rule of law, political and economic marginalization, Amnesty said.
It added that 67 people died when “security forces fired live bullets at peaceful protester” in different towns and cities in the Oromo region over the weekend.
The rights group says the worst bloodshed, which “may amount to extrajudicial killings“, took place in the northern city of Bahir Dar where at least 30 people were killed in one day.
Bahir Dar is the homeland of the Amhara people.
At the weekend, protesters chanted anti-government slogans and waved dissident flags. Some demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians.
Ethiopian authorities have banned demonstrations and imposed a blanket internet blockade.
The government, through its affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), has blamed nearby and distant “foreign enemies”, “social media activists” and “terrorist groups” for the violence and claimed that the “illegal protests” had now been brought under control.
Tensions have been rumbling for two decades over the status of Wolkayt district – a stretch of land that protesters from Amhara say was illegally incorporated into the neighboring Tigray region to the north.
The authorities have said that the demonstrators were destroying government and private property and “inflicting deaths on innocent citizens” and arrests were made as people were trying to spread the violence, FBC adds.
According to Amnesty International, there are thousands of protesters who have been held at unofficial detention centres, including police and military training bases.
Amnesty regional director, Michelle Kagari, said:
“The security forces’ response was heavy-handed, but unsurprising. Ethiopian forces have systematically used excessive force in their mistaken attempts to silence dissenting voices.”
These crimes must be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and all those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts without recourse to death penalty.”
The United States, a close ally of the government, said it was “deeply concerned” by the violence and said the people’s rights to demonstrate should be respected.
“We recognize that many of the demonstrations took place without authorization, and urge all parties to support those who are seeking constructive dialog and peaceful solutions. We reaffirm our call to respect the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens, including those with opposition views, to gather peacefully, and to express their opinions.”