News / Africa

Trials of Politicians, Journalists Test Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Law

Peter Heinlein

ADDIS ABABA - In Ethiopia, a series of high-profile trials is being closely watched as a test of recently-enacted anti-terrorism legislation. A three-judge federal panel is hearing the trials of as many as 150 people arrested on terrorism-related charges last year, including prominent politicians and journalists.

 

Almost every week for the past few months, a small group of journalists and diplomats has  gathered at Addis Ababa's Lideta federal court complex to attend terrorism trials. 

 

The most high-profile is the case of journalist Eskinder Nega, recent winner of the PEN America “Freedom to Write” Award, and Andualem Arage, who had been one of the rising stars in Ethiopia's political opposition.  They are accused of collaborating with the outlawed Ginbot Seven (May 15th) political party to carry out terrorist attacks.

 

U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth was in the courtroom last week when a verdict in the case was due, but the judges postponed the announcement till mid-June, saying they needed more time.

 

Among the other trials before the court was the case of two Swedish journalists captured in the restive Ogaden region in the company of members of the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF.  The journalists were convicted of supporting terrorism, and given 11-year prison terms.

 

In another case, the deputy editor of a now-defunct independent newspaper and a columnist for another paper were convicted of plotting terrorist acts.  Both received long sentences.

 

Then there is the case of a senior United Nations security official who played a key role last year in negotiating the release of two World Food Program employees abducted in the Ogaden.  Shortly after the release, the U.N. officer was arrested and charged with having ties to the ONLF.

 

Almost forgotten has been the case of more than 100 ethnic Oromo political activists.  Prosecutors have alleged they were involved with the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF. 

 

Oromos are the largest of Ethiopia's ethnic groups, and the defendants include top leaders of the two main Oromo opposition parties, as well as former members of parliament.

 

The sheer number of these cases has drawn international attention to Ethiopia's anti-terrorism legislation.  The law was passed in 2009. and came into full effect last year when Ginbot Seven, the ONLF, the Oromo Liberation Front, and al-Qaida were declared terrorist groups.

 

In a report titled “Dismantling Dissent”, the rights group Amnesty International accuses Ethiopia of systematically using the law and the pretext of fighting terrorism to silence internal critics.

 

Amnesty researcher Claire Beston was expelled from Ethiopia last August shortly after meeting with senior Oromo opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa.  Both men were arrested days later on terrorism charges. 

 

Beston says critics of Ethiopia's ruling party appear to be the law's main targets. "Since the law has been introduced, it's been used more to prosecute opposition members and journalists than persons who might be committing so-called terrorist activities," he said. 

 

The once-busy headquarters of the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement, Ethiopia's largest Oromo party, is deserted these days.  OFDM Deputy Secretary General Bekele Nega says the arrests of activists such as Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa have frightened supporters away. "This is what the government wants.  This is the message they are sending to the people.  Don't work with these opposition groups.  They are terrorists.  I'll imprison you, just like Bekele, just like Olbana, so they don't come, fearing imprisonment, fearing torture," he said. 

 

Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal strongly denies there is any intent to crack down on ethnic Oromos. He accuses opposition groups of trying to steer the issue to their own advantage. "[The] government does not espouse a policy that would precisely target certain members of ethnic groups, isolating them, and prosecuting them.  So you journalists, you should not stick an ethnic tag to cases.  You should be careful because it would sound like the government is prosecuting a certain tribe or ethnic group.  This is misleading," he said. 

 

Shimeles and other officials, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi have also rejected the charge that Ethiopia uses anti-terrorism laws to suppress dissent.  They allege that terrorists have used journalism and politics as a cover for their nefarious activities.

 

Opposition leaders point out, however, that none of the defendants is accused of carrying out an actual terrorist attack, and that Ethiopia has remained relatively free of terrorism despite its location in one of the world's most volatile regions.

 

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights this month approved a resolution expressing alarm at Ethiopia's prosecution of journalists and political opposition members. The resolution calls on Ethiopia to remove the anti-terrorism law's restrictions on freedom of expression.

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid