Addis Ababa (AFP) – Ethiopia has banned access to foreign-based opposition media and restricted foreign diplomats’ travel, in new provisions of a state of emergency.
The government declared the six-month state of emergency eight days ago, stepping up its response to an unprecedented wave of protests against its authoritarian rule which has left hundreds dead.
New restrictions published in local media on Sunday also include a 50-kilometre (30-mile) “red zone” adjacent to the country’s borders in which it is illegal to carry firearms. The areas around several key roads have also been declared red zones.
Foreign diplomats are forbidden from travelling more than 40 kilometres outside the capital, Addis Ababa, “for their own security”.
“This is a state of emergency and we expect repressive measures,” a western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity on Monday.
“But we also expect an opening of the political space for the opposition as stated by the president in front of the parliament. This is not what seems to be happening,” the diplomat added.
The measures include a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew around factories, farms and government institutions, which have come under attack from protesters in recent weeks.
Political parties are “banned from giving press statements that incite violence” and religious leaders are forbidden from making political statements.
Security forces are banned from going on holiday or resigning their jobs.
The measures also make it illegal to watch television stations set up by the diaspora such as Ethiopian Satellite television (ESAT) and the US-based Oromia Media Network (OMN).
Posting links from these organisations’ websites onto social media has also been declared a “criminal activity”.
Cellphone internet access has been cut for almost three weeks in most parts of the country, including the capital.
“There is a pressing concern that the Ethiopian authorities will need even less of a pretext to prevent foreign journalists from doing their work during the state of emergency,” said Will Davison, head of the Foreign Press Association, an informal gathering of foreign correspondents in Ethiopia.
On Friday an AFP photographer was stopped in the central town of Sebeta — in the restive Oromia region — and taken to the police station before being released.
The country’s Oromo and Amhara communities — which together make up 60 percent of the population — have been protesting for nearly a year against marginalisation by a government largely made up of minority Tigrayans, which controls power and the economy.
The latest surge in violence came after police fired tear gas at protesters attending an Oromo religious festival on October 2, sparking panic in a massive crowd and triggering a stampede that left over 50 dead.
International rights groups estimate the government crackdown has left more than 500 dead.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn promised last week to reform the electoral system and “open up political space”.