Ethiopia’s government has detained more than 1,000 people, mostly ethnic Tigrayans, in a widespread crackdown on supporters of the northern Tigray region's liberation movement, the UN said on Tuesday.
Liz Throssell, a UN representative for human rights, described mass arrests in the capital Addis Ababa, the northern cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar, and other areas as police invoked the “excessively wide provisions” of emergency rules declared this month.
“At least 1,000 individuals are believed to have been detained over the past week or so, with some reports putting the figure much higher,” said Ms Throssell.
“These developments are all the more disturbing given that most of those detained are reported to be people of Tigrayan origin, arrested often on suspicion of being affiliated” with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The Ethiopian government and the TPLF have this past year been fighting a war that in recent weeks has involved Tigrayan forces advancing on the capital and forming an alliance that threatens to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Many of those detained are “in overcrowded police stations” and in reportedly “poor” conditions where they are subject to “ill treatment”, added the representative. Many have not been charged or been able to challenge their detention.
Among those locked up are 10 Ethiopian employees of the UN and 34 lorry drivers who transported goods for the world body via subcontract. Ms Throssell called for them to be “immediately released”.
The government’s six month-long state of emergency allows people to be detained without trial for as long as the declaration persists and permits house-to-house raids without a warrant.
Ethiopia’s mission to the UN did not immediately answer The National’s request for comment.
Police have previously said the roundups are not ethnically motivated but aimed at detaining TPLF supporters.
Fighting broke out in November 2020 when TPLF forces seized military bases in Tigray.
Mr Abiy sent troops to the region, but a Tigrayan counteroffensive beginning in late June pushed into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions and has the government on the back foot.