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 voanews.com, that are blocked in Ethiopia.

You May Like

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More