ADDIS ABABA —
Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega appeared in court on Wednesday as the prosecution had to re-explain the charges against the prominent blogger. Eskinder also got the chance to defend himself before the court.
Eskinder made his court appearance with opposition leader Andualem Arage and two other opposition members. They are all imprisoned on terrorism charges as they were found guilty earlier this year of having links with the outlawed group Ginbot 7 and trying to start Arab Spring-type demonstrations in Ethiopia.
The blogger was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Andualem was given a life sentence.
Eskinder Nega defended himself while lawyer Abebe Guta defended the others as they tried to appeal their sentences on Wednesday. Abebe said the prosecution was asked to justify the terrorist charges to the Federal Supreme Court after Eskinder and the others appealed their sentences last month.
"They tried to justify the former prosecution that they presented to the High Court. They said that these people have connection with Ginbot 7 terrorist organization in Eritrea and these terror acts is sponsored terrorism," Abebe explained, "which means it is supported by the Eritrean government and because they are clandestine and because their membership is not official. So in that case, if it is not official, if is clandestine, how do you discover that they have connection and link with the state sponsored terrorism of Eritrea and terrorist organization?”
Eskinder, Andualem and the others were all sentenced last summer under the anti-terrorism law. Abebe said the latest developments at the Federal Supreme Court give him hope:
“The lower court didn’t consider our defense. The lower court didn’t base its decision on the law and the facts in unity," he noted. "It took only one side of argument of the prosecution. And we are happy that when the court evaluates deep into the fact and the law, maybe it can pass decision in favor of our clients. It can set them free, it can reduce their punishment. And it can also reprimand to the higher court for review.”
Ethiopia is among the top 10 countries with the most imprisoned journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal denied the allegations as false:
“You can not name a single journalist who has been brought to a court and who has been convicted therefore on account on a statement that he has written," he said. "We have some people who happen to be serving as journalist in some newspaper. It is true they have been prosecuted for matters that has nothing to with their journalistic activity.”
Eskinder, Andualem and the two other opposition members will appear in court again in January as they continue their appeal. The judges of the Federal Supreme Court will then outline how the case will continue.
YouTube video: Eskinder Nega's Pen 2012 Freedom to Write award