Two NGOs closed for "threatening national security"

Two non-governmental organisations have been closed down after they were accused of threatening the national security of Ethiopia.

Officials of the local organisations – which operate in Ethiopia's Somali Region – told IRIN on Wednesday they were banned from operating by the ministry of justice. The two, the Ogaden Welfare Society (OWS) and the Guardian, have been given 30 days to appeal.

Mohamoud Abdi Ahmed, head of the Ogaden Welfare Society (OWS), said the state police raided its offices in the town of Jijiga and shut it down. "We have been accused of being a threat to national security,” he told IRIN.

Mohamoud said the ministry of justice had issued them with a letter. "It said there was an investigation going on and that it found two NGOs being involved in business that was a threat to national security,” he said. “It said that was outside the mandate of the NGOs and so it took back our registration.” The letter did not detail how the organisations posed a threat to national security, he added.

OWS employs more than 300 people who are feeding up to 1,000 children a week. It also looks after 12,000 internally displaced people in Gunagadao, southeast Ethiopia. Mohamoud said in total, 500,000 people benefited from their work, which is carried out in one of the harshest environments in Ethiopia. “No-one is prepared to take over our operation here,” he added.

Staff at the regional office in Jijiga were told not to remove anything from the premises. “The office has remained closed since last Friday and police are still guarding it,” Mohamoud said.

A petition is expected to be handed in to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, signed by 200 elders and chiefs, asking him to reverse the decision. Mohamoud claimed the organisation was a victim of regional politics.

Yewendweffen Haile, head of finance and administration at the Guardian NGO, said they too had their registration withdrawn by the ministry of justice.

The organisation, which provides food to 6,000 people in Gode – an area hard hit by the 2000 famine – said it had already appealed. Its chairman Dr Korfa Garane, who is a member of the
House of Representatives, is also lobbying on their behalf.

Yewendweffen said his organisation faced the same accusations as OWF. "We are going to do something about this," he told IRIN. "The ministry of justice has been misled by someone and because of that it has cancelled our registration.”

All NGOs operating in Ethiopia are required by law to register with the government. Both organisations are members of the Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA), which lobbies on behalf of NGOs.

Their closure comes weeks after the regional government – headed by the Somali People’s Democratic Party (SPDP) – launched an anti-corruption purge in the state. The party sacked 10 members of its central committee for alleged corruption. At a 19-day emergency summit in February, the party alleged that certain NGOs operating in the Somali National Regional State had been “meddling in politics” and "profiteering from their work".