Two fierce critics of Ethiopia’s ruling party have joined a growing list of government opponents detained in recent days under a new anti-terrorism law. The latest to be arrested are a journalist and a rising star in opposition politics.
Ethiopian federal police detained five people Wednesday in an ongoing roundup of terrorism suspects. Among them were Andualem Aragie, the youngest executive committee member of the main opposition bloc Medrek, and independent internet journalist Eskinder Nega.
Both men have been outspoken critics of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party, which has ruled the country since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1991. Both were among 130 journalists and political activists convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison following the disputed 2005 elections. All were later pardoned.
Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal says both Andualem and Eskinder are accused of involvement with Ginbot 7, an outlawed party led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005 but never took office and now lives in exile in the United States. "Eskinder Nega and Andualem Aragie were arrested for conspiring with terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7 and other foreign forces who wanted to wreak havoc in the country through their terrorist activities," he said.
Eskinder and Andualem are the latest of several high-profile opposition politicians and journalists arrested over the past few weeks under a recently enacted anti-terrorism law.
Popular actor Debebe Eshetu, who was the face of the opposition in 2005 election campaign ads, was picked up last week. Debebe was also among those jailed following the election and pardoned.
Two top leaders of parties representing Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, were also jailed after meeting delegates of the human rights group Amnesty International. The Amnesty representatives were expelled from the country.
In addition five journalists have also been charged under the new law, including two Swedes captured while travelling with rebels in the restive Ogaden region, and a US-based Ethiopian internet journalist who was charged in absentia.
Eskinder and Andualem have been particularly outspoken in their criticisms of the ruling party. In his latest internet post, Eskinder ridicules the terrorism charges against the actor Debebe Eshetu, describing him as a frail man in his mid-60s, the antithesis of the profile of a terrorist.
At an opposition news conference called last Friday, Andualem had alleged that the terrorism charges againts previous detainees had been fabricated by a government worried that it is losing its 20-year grip on power. "So long as you are not cooperating with the regime, then you will be labeled as terrorist the next morning. Beginning with the 2005 elections, this regime has very well understood it will never win the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people so the solution they are left with is fabricating lies and jailing everyone they think is opposing them," he said.
Government spokesman Shimeles denied there was any connection between the arrests and the suspects’ professional activities. He told VOA the charges against the suspects involve a plot to violently overthrow the government.
"Ethiopia doesn’t espouse a policy that would prosecute people who advocate dissent, who would criticize the official positions and no one would be prosecuted for holding an opposition view. This has nothing to do with their personal political views. They are being arrested for plotting and conspiring to carry out and to launch terrorist attacks throughout the country," he said.
Government spokesman Shimeles declined to describe the nature of the terrorist plot the suspects are accused of involvement in. He said details would be divulged only after prosecutors complete their investigation of the case.