Ethiopian immigration officials detained a member of staff from ARTICLE 19’s East Africa office on 3 April for 29 hours without any access to legal advice or consular support. Fortunately, Patrick Mutahi, a trainer in protection, reacted according to strict ARTICLE 19 security protocols, notifying Ethiopian contacts of his detainment before his mobile phone was confiscated.
Following a rapid campaign for his release, Mutahi was deported back to Kenya on 4 April, and was warned that he would face jail if he returned.
ARTICLE 19 is one of the last remaining international human rights organisations working in Ethiopia and providing independent information to the UN Human Rights Council, and we are therefore concerned that the situation will only deteriorate further.
We urge the government to publicly withdraw their threat to jail Patrick Mutahi, and to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of expression.
We also call upon the UN to address increasing threats towards human rights defenders who provide a source of independent information without which the UN cannot fulfil their mandate, specifically by urgently establishing the mechanism agreed in Human Rights Council Resolution 24/24.
“Patrick’s detention is a chilling indictment of the state of freedom of expression in Ethiopia. Over the past five years we’ve witnessed growing hostility towards journalists, civil society groups and political opposition. That hostility is now being extended to those that support these groups’ exercise of their right to freedom of expression,” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
“We have worked in Ethiopia to provide support to journalists, so that that they can continue to professionally conduct their important work to keep people informed and facilitate open debate about matters of public importance. Restricting our work shows the utter contempt the Ethiopian authorities hold for free speech, press freedom and fundamental human rights.”
Denial of entry, detention and deportation
On 3 April 2014, Patrick Mutahi flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was due to deliver a security and safety training for journalists and media workers. Upon landing in Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport at 12pm, he was detained by immigration officials, who confiscated his passport and mobile telephone and told him that he would not be permitted to enter the country. Security officials stated that ARTICLE 19 had not sought permission from the Ethiopian government to conduct trainings of journalists.
Officials told Patrick that he was not allowed to speak to anyone and was refused legal advice. Mutahi had however already anticipated the potential risk and following ARTICLE 19 security protocol, had notified Ethiopian contacts that he was being held.
During the period of detention, it became apparent that the authorities were familiar with Patrick’s movements during previous trips to the country. Security officials made clear they knew details about who he had met with, as well as where and when those meetings had taken place.
At approximately 2pm on 4 April, 26 hours after being detained and as a result of a global reaction for his release, Patrick was told he would be deported and warned that he would face jail if he returned. At 5pm the same day, Patrick’s passport was stamped “deported” and he was placed on a flight back to Kenya.
An attempt to undermine the United Nations
We are also concerned that this response by the Ethiopian government is an attempt to stop ARTICLE 19 from continuing to provide an independent source of information about human rights violations in Ethiopia to the United Nations.
As well as training journalists, Patrick was due to work with Ethiopian civil society to provide information to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, a four-yearly assessment of the human rights situation in every country, conducted in front of all UN member states in Geneva.
ARTICLE 19 routinely works with civil society in countries worldwide to give detailed and independent information and recommendations about the state of freedom of expression in countries under review.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend for governments to harass civil society to stop them passing information to the UN and its various mechanisms. The UN’s Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recently in September 2013, committing states to prevent “intimidation or reprisals against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.” The resolution calls upon the UN Secretary General to create a senior focal point within the UN to coordinate an international response on the issues of reprisals, to increase protections for human rights defenders, and to ensure perpetrators of attacks against defenders are held accountable.
Ethiopia, a member of the Council, abstained in the resolution’s September vote and in December, the African Group of States at the UN General Assembly voted to delay the appointment of the senior focal point on reprisals.
“Detaining Patrick, a human rights defender, obstructs civil society’s ability to communicate human rights abuses to the UN and other international bodies responsible for holding states accountable for their human rights violations, such as the Universal Periodic Review,” added Maina.