News / Africa

Famed Ethiopian Actor Charged Under New Anti-Terrorism Law

Ethiopian police have arrested a famous actor in an ongoing roundup of terrorism suspects that has also netted journalists and prominent opposition politicians. Opposition leaders and rights activists are accusing the government of using a new anti-terrorism law to silence political dissent.

Legendary stage and screen actor Debebe Eshetu was shown on Ethiopian television in handcuffs, the latest in a series of government opponents to be charged under a broad anti-terrorism law that went into effect earlier this year.

Debebe was the face of Ethiopia’s political opposition during the 2005 election campaign, appearing in television ads for the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. He was among opposition leaders convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison after disputes over the election results led to demonstrations in which nearly 200 protestors and 6 police officers were killed. All were later pardoned.

Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal says Debebe is accused of having links to the Ginbot Seven, a political party led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005, but never took office and later went into exile in the United States, where he is a professor at Bucknell, a prestigious East Coast university.

Berhanu has advocated the overthrow of the current government by any means, and his party was one of five organizations outlawed under the new terrorism law.

Spokesman Shimeles said anti-terrorism police had been monitoring Debebe’s activities for some time.

"According to federal police, he was arrested yesterday [Thursday] afternoon on suspicion of involvement in clandestine terrorist activity that links him to Ginbot Seven," he said. "The police had information regarding the activity of this particular person and was following him very closely until they thought it is time to execute arrest."

Debebe’s arrest shocked many Ethiopians who know him as a legendary stage and screen actor. A former colleague in the CUD, Mesfin Hailemariam, called it ‘inconceivable’ that Debebe would be plotting a terrorist attack. In a telephone interview, “Professor Mesfin” as he is known, expressed concern about the wave of arrests under the anti-terror law.

"This is going on now and I don’t know where it will lead us," he said.  "As far as I’m concerned, Debebe Eshetu is not a person who could be involved in any violent plan."

Debebe’s arrest comes at the end of a two week period that has seen dozens of people charged under the new anti-terrorism statute, including journalists and prominent opposition politicians.

Two leaders of parties representing Ethiopia’s Oromos, the country’s largest ethnic group, were arrested days after meeting a pair of Amnesty International delegates. The Amnesty team was expelled from the country.

At a news conference Friday, leaders of the main opposition bloc Medrek condemned the roundup as politically-motivated.

Former Ethiopian President Negasso Gidada, now a Medrek leader, says the arrests are intended as a warning to anyone who might oppose the ruling party.

"It is only blackmailing people and having them arrested without cause, just to intimidate not only them, but those of us who are outside of prison," he said. "But we want to say to the government, this will not help, it will even strengthen our dedication, our commitment to struggle for freedom."

The anti-terrorism law has also been used against five journalists, including two Swedish freelancers who were caught in the company of an outlawed rebel group in Ethiopia’s restive Ogaden region. Two reporters for independent Ethiopian newspapers were also arrested, though the government denies the charges have anything to do with their journalistic activities.  

The fifth accused is the operator of a stridently anti-government website based in the United States.  Elias Kifle of the Ethiopian Review website was charged in absentia. The website is among many, including, that are blocked in Ethiopia.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs