News / Africa

Ethiopian PM Defends Anti-Terror Law, Condemns Critics

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (File)
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (File)

Ethiopia has launched a vigorous defense of an anti-terrorism law that has been used to imprison journalists and opposition politicians. The law's critics call it an effective tool for silencing dissent.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Wednesday lashed out at human rights and press freedom groups that have criticized implementation of Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law.

Answering questions on the floor of parliament, Mr. Meles accused Western monitoring groups of harboring anti-Ethiopian biases that lead them to conclude the law is being misused for political purposes.

He used as an example the case of two Swedish journalists who were arrested in the company of rebels the government classifies as terrorists.

“The government gave a small statement that such people have been put [in] prison," he said. "The next day the campaign was launched, 'Free press, innocent people with no issue at all!'  They just give pronouncements before the case has gone to court, before evidence has been heard.  The pronouncement was there; the government is the criminal and the people are innocent.”

An Ethiopian court later convicted the two Swedes of supporting terrorism and sentenced them to 11 years in prison.  Mr. Meles hinted that the pair might be freed, saying, “We would consider clemency, if the culprits admit their guilt."   

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have been vocal critics of the anti-terrorism law.  Amnesty International says the statute has been used to jail more than 100 journalists and opposition politicians during the past year.  Many have been convicted and handed long prison terms.

Mr. Meles singled out Human Rights Watch for special criticism.  He suggested that the group is an agent of forces trying to weaken countries that oppose Western ideology.  

“A campaign has been launched against us," he said. "There's a reason behind it.  This institution is playing a role of [promoting] ideologies.  This organization and its friends' world view are playing a role to speak against some countries, if they look to be on the road to success on an ideology that is different from the current world view.  So it's a campaign to [bring]those of us to our knees that deviate from the current world view.  There's no connection with human rights.”

The prime minister's comments were the latest jab in a verbal slugfest between Ethiopia and several Western institutions.  

The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa last week issued a sharp rebuttal to a New York Times newspaper opinion piece alleging that the government is becoming more repressive, and Mr. Meles increasingly tyrannical.  In the piece, columnist Nicholas Kristof defended the Swedish journalists, saying, “their offense was courage” in sneaking into Ethiopia's insurgency-wracked Ogaden region to investigate reports of human rights abuses.

A letter written to the editor of The New York Times by an Ethiopian embassy official in Washington charged Kristof with trying to incite opposition to the government.  A foreign ministry statement said Ethiopia respects media freedom and accused Kristof of getting his facts wrong.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says the Meles government has driven more journalists into exile during the past 10 years than any other country.  CPJ Advocacy Coordinator for Africa Mohamed Keita says the few remaining critical voices in the media are under attack.  

"The state media is continuing its smear campaign against the last independent current affairs newspaper, Fiteh," said Keita. "So the numbers speak for themselves.  Between 2001 and 2011, at least 79 Ethiopian journalists were forced into exile because they were reporting or commenting on the news, and their opinions and criticisms of the government was equated to anti-state activities."

Ethiopian government spokesmen did not answer telephone calls seeking comment. But in an interview with Bloomberg news, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said Ethiopia differentiates between freedom of expression and terrorism.  Referring to criticism of the Swedish journalists' conviction, Bereket said, “This is simply a very wrong defense of foreign journalists who have been caught red-handed assisting terrorists.”

A group of United Nations human rights experts joined the fray last week, urging the Ethiopian government to ensure that the anti-terrorism legislation is not abused.  

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya voiced special concern about the case of Internet blogger and political commentator Eskinder Nega.  He faces a possible death penalty, if convicted of violating the statute.  Eskinder is on trial, accused of plotting with members of an outlawed political party to commit terrorist acts.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid