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National flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines has been summoned for a court hearing Friday over claims by a human rights group that it discriminated against travellers from Tigray, according to court documents seen by AFP.
The airline, which has a monopoly on domestic flights, resumed air links between the capital Addis Ababa and the Tigray region after a peace deal was signed in November 2022 ending two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia.
But according to Ethiopian organisation Human Rights First, the airline banned the sale of tickets for flights from two working airports in Tigray -- in the capital Mekele and the city of Shire -- to Tigrayans aged between 15 and 60.
The "only exceptions" were for mothers travelling with children, or people with a medical letter, according to a member of Human Rights First, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
According to the group's lawsuit, Ethiopian Airlines also systematically applied the maximum fare for flights from Tigray to the Ethiopian capital.
Ethiopian Airlines, which is wholly state-owned, has rejected the claims in a written response to the civil court, and called for them to be dismissed.
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Human Rights First says its action is based on an internal company memo that has been seen by AFP, and on three testimonies including one by a former employee of Ethiopian Airlines.
It argued that Ethiopian Airlines had "violated the constitutional right for any Ethiopian citizen to move legally around the country" and for Tigrayans to have equal service.
The NGO said it wanted the tribunal to order the airline to "lift its prohibition on 15-60 year-olds from travelling from Tigray to Addis Ababa and foreign destinations," to provide equal service to all customers and to stop the "price discrimination."
It is also seeking an apology for the "monetary and moral" damage caused.
Ethiopian Airlines said in its response that it "does not have the legal authority to impose prohibitions. The airline has not undertaken the (alleged) prohibition."
It also said the claims of price discrimination targeting ethnic Tigrayans were "false".
Ethiopian Airlines did not respond immediately to AFP's request for comment.