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Ethiopia: Counterterrorism as Pretext
Jul 16, 2012 (120716)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
On July 13 an Ethiopian court handed down heavy prison
sentences to six journalists convicted on vague terrorism
charges. Award-winning blogger Eskinder Nega got an 18-year
term; the others live in exile and were sentenced in
absentia. This was the latest in a series of repressive actions by the
Ethiopian government against journalists taken under the
sweeping Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. This is a
particularly blatant example of the use of counterterrorism
as a pretext, as similar over-broad counterterrorism
legislation continues to proliferate in countries around the
This kind of abuse is distinct from the serious abuses of
human rights and international law by governments, including
the United States and many other countries, taken in the
course of actions against violent groups that are accurately
described as terrorists. Vague definitions of terrorism, in
addition, allow the use of counterterrorism laws to repress
opponents guilty of nothing more than free expression or
other peaceful opposition to incumbent governments.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a selection of articles
and documents on the latest case in Ethiopia, including an
op-ed by scholar Tobias Hoffman, press statements by the
U.S. Department of State, the Committee to Protect
Journalists, and Human Rights Watch, and a report on critiques presented
earlier this year by UN human rights experts.
Despite the fact that the U.S. State Department joined in
the critique of Ethiopia's action, there seems little
prospect that the United States or other leading
international donors will put significant pressure on the
Ethiopian government to stop such practices. According to
the latest statistics, for 2008-2010, Ethiopia ranked first
among African countries in the volume of Official
Development Assistance received. Ethiopia also remains a key
military partner of the United States in actions against Al
Shabaab in Somalia.
An extensive background report by Human Rights Watch in 2010
documented how aid is used in Ethiopia a tool to support
http://www.hrw.org / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/2ujmwyf
For regular critical commentary on the repressive political
situation in Ethiopia, see the Monday Commentaries by
Alemayehu G. Mariam at http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam
The text of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009 is
available at http://tinyurl.com/ctcthka
The latest statistics on official development assistance to
Africa show that Ethiopia is the top recipient, with an
average of 3.559 billion in aid a year over the period
While the abuse of counterterrorism laws in Ethiopia is
extreme, the phenomenon is worldwide, as documented in a
June 2012 report by Human Rights Watch entitled "In the Name
of Security: Counterterrorism Laws Worldwide since September
11," documenting the widespread enactment of laws against
terrorism with multiple scope for violation of international
standards on human rights and due process, notably including
vague and over-broad definitions of terrorism. For the full
112-page report, visit
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Ethiopia, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Supporting Stability, Abetting Repression
By Tobias Hoffman
New York Times, July 11, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com / direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/d5dzazk
Tobias Hagmann specializes in East African politics. He is a
visiting scholar at the Department of Political Science at
the University of California at Berkeley.
Berkeley, California - Next time I travel to Ethiopia, I may
be arrested as a terrorist. Why? Because I have published
articles about Ethiopian politics.
I wrote a policy report on Ethiopia's difficulties with
federalism. I gave a talk in which I questioned Ethiopia's
May 2010 elections, in which the ruling EPRDF party
(Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front) won 545
out of 547 seats in the Parliament. As part of my ongoing
research on mass violence in the Somali territories, I
interviewed members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front,
a separatist rebel group in eastern Ethiopia that the
government has designated as a terrorist organization.
In the eyes of the government of Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi, my work is tantamount to subversion. Not only do his
officials have zero tolerance for criticism, they consider
people who either talk to or write about the opposition as
In recent years the government has effectively silenced
opposition parties, human rights organizations, journalists
and researchers. On June 27 a federal court convicted the
journalist Eskinder Nega and 23 opposition politicians for
'participation in a terrorist organization.' More than 10
other journalists have been charged under an anti-terrorism
law introduced in 2009. Among them are two Swedes, Martin
Schibbye and Johan Persson, who are serving an 11-year
prison sentence in Ethiopia. Hundreds of opposition
supporters languish in prisons for exercising the very
democratic rights that the Ethiopian Constitution nominally
Most people outside Ethiopia associate the country with
famine and poverty. They know little about the country's
history and politics - for example that Ethiopia was never
colonized, or that it has Africa's second biggest
population. Nor are they aware that Ethiopia is a darling of
the donor community, receiving more aid than any other
African country. Over the past year alone, the U.S. Agency
for International Development has given Ethiopia $675
million in aid. The United States closely collaborates with
Ethiopia in covert missions against radical Islamists in
Much of this support comes from the portrayal of Ethiopia as
a strong and stable government in a region riddled with
political upheaval. The problem, however, is that Ethiopia
is plagued by too much state control.
When EPRDF came to power in 1991, it promised to democratize
the country. Two decades later the party has a tight grip on
all public institutions, from the capital to remote
villages. Formally a federal democracy, Ethiopia is a highly
centralized one-party state. No independent media,
judiciary, opposition parties or civil society to speak of
exist in today's Ethiopia. Many of the country's businesses
are affiliated with the ruling party. Most Ethiopians do not
dare to discuss politics for fear of harassment by local
As I found out in dozens of interviews with Ethiopian
Somalis, security forces indiscriminately kill, imprison and
torture civilians whom they suspect of aiding Ogaden rebels.
How have donors who fund about one third of Ethiopia's
budget and many humanitarian programs reacted to this? They
haven't. They not only continue to support the Ethiopian
government but in recent years have increased their aid. The
West, most prominently the United States and the European
Union, have concluded a strange pact with Meles Zenawi: So
long as his government produces statistics that evince
economic growth, they are willing to fund his regime -
whatever its human rights abuses.
This policy is wrong, shortsighted and counterproductive. It
is wrong because billions in Western tax money are spent to
support an authoritarian regime. It is shortsighted because
it ignores the fact that the absence of basic rights and
freedoms is one of the reasons Ethiopians are so poor. It is
counterproductive because many Ethiopians resent the
unconditional aid and recognition given to their rulers. In
Ethiopia - and also in Rwanda and Uganda - the West is once
again making the mistake of rewarding stability and growth
while closing its eyes to repression.
Ethiopia sentences Eskinder, 5 others on terror charges
Committee to Protect Journalists
Nairobi, July 13, 2012--An Ethiopian court today handed down
heavy prison sentences to six journalists convicted on vague
terrorism charges, local journalists and news reports said.
Award-winning blogger Eskinder Nega got an 18-year term; the
others live in exile and were sentenced in absentia.
"The court has given due considerations to the charges and
the sentences are appropriate," presiding Judge Endeshaw
Adane told a packed courtroom at the Lideta Federal High
Court in the capital, Addis Ababa, as he issued sentences
for 24 defendants, including the journalists, convicted of
involvement in a vague terror plot, according to wire
The judge accused veteran journalist Eskinder of
participating in a terrorist organization, planning a
terrorist act, and "working with the Ginbot 7 organization,"
a U.S.-based opposition group that the Ethiopian government
formally designated a terrorist entity in 2011. The judge
also accused Eskinder of wanting to incite anti-government
protests in Ethiopia with online articles discussing the
Arab Spring. Authorities have detained Eskinder at least
eight times during Meles Zenawi's two decades as prime
minister, according to CPJ research.
Exiled journalists Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam
received eight years each based on accusations of making
information about Ginbot 7 available to Ethiopians through
their news website, Addis Neger Online.
Abebe Gellaw of the U.S.-based Addis Voice and Abebe Belew
of U.S.-based Internet radio station Addis Dimts were each
sentenced in absentia to 15 years, and Fasil Yenealem got a
life sentence, based on their activities with pro-opposition
exiled broadcaster Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT),
which government prosecutors described in court documents as
"the voice of the terrorist organization Ginbot 7."
All of the journalists have professed their innocence,
according to news reports. Violations of fundamental
principles of fairness, such as the presumption of
innocence, undermined the credibility of the trial,
according to legal experts and CPJ research.
Defense lawyer Abebe Guta told Agence France-Presse the
defense would appeal.
"The harsh sentences handed down to Eskinder and five other
journalists on baseless terrorism charges tell the rest of
the press corps that critical coverage of the government is
an act of terrorism," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom
Rhodes. "The international community should rebuke Ethiopia
for using the cover of terrorism to deny its citizens the
fundamental right to free expression."
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, three
U.N. special rapporteurs, the U.S. State Department, members
of the U.S. Senate , and the European Union have expressed
concern at Ethiopia's use of its far-reaching antiterrorism
law to criminalize fundamental rights guaranteed under the
Fasil, who has continued to practice journalism from exile,
had already been sentenced in absentia to life in prison in
2009 on anti-state charges based on his affiliation with
Ginbot 7. "For the second time, I am sentenced to life in
prison. What can I say about this verdict? Do I have two
souls to serve both sentences on earth, or is the latest one
reserved for the other world?" he told CPJ today.
"The central goal of the charge is cutting us from our home
and warning journalists and other critical voices to remain
silent," Mesfin told CPJ.
Ethiopian Court's Sentencing in Anti-Terrorism Trial
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
July 14, 2012
The United States remains deeply concerned about the trial,
conviction, and sentencing of Ethiopian journalist Eskinder
Nega, as well as seven political opposition figures, under
the country's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The sentences
handed down today, including 18 years for Eskinder and life
imprisonment for the opposition leader Andualem Arage, are
extremely harsh and reinforce our serious questions about
the politicized use of Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law in this
and other cases.
The Ethiopian government has used the Anti-Terrorism
Proclamation to jail journalists and opposition party
members for peacefully exercising their freedoms of
expression and association. This practice raises serious
concerns about the extent to which Ethiopians can rely upon
their constitutionally guaranteed rights to afford the
protection that is a fundamental element of a democratic
We reiterate our call for the Government of Ethiopia to stop
stifling freedom of expression and we urge the release of
those who have been imprisoned for exercising their human
rights and fundamental freedoms.
Ethiopia: Terrorism Law Used to Crush Free Speech:
Donors Should Condemn Verdicts, Demand Legal Reforms
Human Rights Watch
June 27, 2012
July 13, 2012 UPDATE: On July 13 Eskinder was sentenced to
18 years in prison. His lawyer said he will appeal.
(Nairobi) - Ethiopian high court on June 27, 2012, convicted
24 journalists, political opposition leaders, and others
under Ethiopia's deeply flawed anti-terrorism law, Human
Rights Watch said today.
The Ethiopian government should immediately drop all
politically motivated charges against the defendants and
amend the law's most pernicious provisions, which are being
used to criminalize free expression and peaceful dissent,
Human Rights Watch said.
In the third high-profile "terrorism" verdict in the past
six months, Eskinder Nega Fenta, an independent journalist
and blogger, was one of six journalists convicted under the
Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. Their sentencing is
expected on July 13.
Eskinder Nega, who was recently honored with the prestigious
PEN America press freedom award, is in detention in Addis
Ababa, and was convicted of conspiracy to commit terrorist
acts, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life
imprisonment or death,as well as participation in a
terrorist organization and treason. The other five
journalists were convicted in absentia. A total of 11
journalists have been charged or convicted under the antiterrorism
law since December 2011, including two Swedish
journalists who were arrested while trying to investigate
the conflict in Ethiopia's eastern Somali region.
"This case shows that Ethiopia's government will not
tolerate even the mildest criticism," said Leslie Lefkow,
deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The use of
draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free
speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of
Members of the political opposition were also among those
convicted under the law on June 27.
Andualem Arage Wale and Nathnael Mekonnen Gebre Kidan,
prominent members of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ),
a registered opposition political party, were found guilty
of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts as well as
participation in a terrorist organization and treason as was
Kinfemichael Debebe Bereded, a member of the All Ethiopian
Democratic Party (AEDP).
The convictions bring the total known number of individuals
convicted of terrorism-related charges to 34, including 11
journalists, at least 4 opposition supporters and 19 others.
The anti-terrorism law's most problematic provisions were
used during this trial, Human Rights Watch said.
Two of the journalists tried in absentia, Mesfin Negash and
Abiye Tekle Mariam, were convicted under the law's article
on support for terrorism, which contains a vague prohibition
on "moral support." This provision is contrary to the
principle of legality, which requires that people be able to
determine what acts would constitute a crime. Only
journalists have been charged and convicted under this
All of the 24 defendants were initially charged with
"terrorist acts." Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised
concerns over the law's broad definition of "terrorist
acts," which can be used to prosecute lawful, peaceful
dissent. Similarly, all defendants were initially charged
with "encouragement of terrorism," which includes the
publication of statements "likely to be understood as
encouraging terrorist acts," a provision that Human Rights
Watch has warned could be used against government critics
and journalists who even publish the names of organizations
or individuals deemed to be terrorists.
"The Ethiopian government is using every means at its
disposal to shut down press freedom," Lefkow said.
"Ethiopia's international partners should immediately call
for the release of the many journalists and opposition
supporters unlawfully prosecuted, and for the revision of
the law that put them behind bars."
Ethiopian courts have little independence from the
government. As in earlier terrorism trials, the trial of the
24 was marred by serious due process violations, Human
Rights Watch said. The defendants had no access to legal
counsel during almost two months of pre-trial detention and
complaints of mistreatment and torture by defendants were
not appropriately investigated.
Nathnael Mekonnen told the court that during his pre-trial
detention he was tortured for 23 days, including being
beaten, forced to stand for hours upon end, deprived of
sleep, and having cold water repeatedly poured over him at
the notorious Maekelawi facility. His complaints were not
investigated. According to credible sources, Andualem Arage
lodged a complaint after he was beaten by a convicted
prisoner on February 15 in Kaliti prison, but his complaint
was dismissed. The court prevented further questioning by
defense attorneys and accepted as fact the response by the
prison administrator that contradicted Andualem's claims,
without further investigation.
Furthermore, the Ethiopian authorities and government media
have repeatedly undermined defendants' presumption of
innocence. In October 2011 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told
the Ethiopian parliament that the journalists and political
opposition members arrested under the law were guilty of
In late November state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV)
broadcast a three-part program called "Akeldama" ("Land of
Blood") in which several of the defendants, including
Andualem Arage and Nathnael Mekonnen, were filmed in
detention, seemingly under duress, describing their alleged
involvement in what the documentary brands a "terrorist
plot." Allegations were also made against Eskinder Nega. The
court reportedly dismissed the complaints of due process
violations against the defendants on the grounds that the
video footage was not produced as evidence by the
The same court later charged the editor of the independent
weekly newspaper Feteh, Temesghen Desalegn, of contempt of
court for having among other things reproduced verbatim
statements made by a defendant. The courts in Ethiopia have
little independence from the government.
"The courts trying cases under the anti-terrorism law have
repeatedly run roughshod over the rights of defendants,"
Lefkow said. "Judicial independence has all but vanished in
any politically sensitive case in Ethiopia."
Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws must not be misused to curb
rights - UN
United Nations News Centre
2 February 2012 - A group of independent United Nations human
rights experts today spoke out against the ongoing use of
anti-terrorism laws to curb freedom of expression in
Ethiopia, where several journalists were recently given
prison sentences under such legislation.
"Journalists play a crucial role in promoting accountability
of public officials by investigating and informing the
public about human rights violations," said Frank La Rue,
the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. "They
should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their
legitimate work, let alone be severely punished."
A week ago, three journalists and two opposition politicians
were given prison sentences ranging from 14 years to life
imprisonment under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws. This
followed the sentencing of two Swedish journalists to 11
years in prison in December, a news release issued by the
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Another 24 defendants are scheduled to appear in court next
month, for various charges under the anti-terrorism law,
several of whom may face the death sentence if convicted.
Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism
and human rights, said that "the anti-terrorism provisions
should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in
Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter
to internationally guaranteed human rights."
The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret
Sekaggya, emphasized that "journalists, bloggers and others
advocating for increased respect for human rights should not
be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views
are not in alignment with those of the Government."
She voiced concern at the case of Eskinder Nega, a blogger
and human rights defender who may face the death penalty if
convicted. Mr. Nega has been advocating for reform on the
issue of the right to assemble peacefully in public.
Similarly, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom
of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai,
cautioned against the ongoing campaign of harassment against
associations expressing dissenting views, while Gabriela
Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and
lawyers, deplored the reported failure to ensure the
defendants' right to a fair trial.
The experts called on the Ethiopian Government to respect
the concerned individuals' fundamental rights, especially
their right to a fair trial, and reiterated the need to
apply anti-terrorism legislation cautiously and in
accordance with the country's international human rights
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