A court in Addis Ababa today dismissed the appeal by Eskindir Nega, blogger, and Andualem Arage, a senior opposition figure, and upheld its earlier decision of lengthy jail terms for both.
The two were jailed in the summer of 2012 along with many others and charged with terrorism.
“The sentencing is still correct so there is no reduction,” AFP quoted Supreme Court judge Dagne Melaku, as saying. Eskinder was jailed for 18 years while Andualem’s was life in prison.
The court also dropped one of the charges against the two: serving as a leader of a terrorist organization. But it had no effect in the original sentencing.
Eskinder Nega, whose depressed wife Serkalem Fasil, also a journalist, was photographed outside of the court, made an emotional appeal to the court saying “The truth will set us free.” We want the Ethiopian public to know that the truth will reveal itself, it’s only a matter of time.”
The court was crowded with friends, activists, diplomats and family members of both. Eskindir and Andualem are a father of one and two respectively. Andualem is deputy chairman of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), the only opposition party with a lone representative in the ruling party, EPRDF, dominated national parliament,
Wave of arrest
An unprecedented wave of arrest by Ethiopian police that has begun on June 19, 2011 saw Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of a private Amharic weekly newspaper Awramba Times, which is known for its fierce criticism against the government but no longer in circulation now, locked in jail, followed on June 21 by the arrest of Reyot Alemu, a columnist in another private weekly newspaper Feteh. Both were soon charged under the much dreaded anti-terrorism proclamation No. 652/2009.
Similar arrests in July 2011 saw 31 more people including Andualem, his colleagues and Eskindir under police custody. Prosecutors claimed many of them belonged to opposition political parties including the outlawed OLF and Ginbot 7.
The court proceeding attracted the attention of global human rights activists who reported various flaws in the proceedings and human rights violations of the detainees while under police custody.
This magazine reported in April 2012 about a mid-February 2012 abuse against Andualem Arage of the UDJ who was assaulted by a fellow prisoner, who was originally a death-row inmate but was later sentenced to life imprisonment. After Andualem’s party brought the case into the attention of the public, the government was forced to give a statement but said Andualem was beaten by a fellow prisoner in what appeared to be a personal squabble. His party and many people seriously dispute that.
This magazine’s attempts to independently verify the situation proved futile – many of the detainees are kept out of contacts with the outside world and prison authorities repeatedly deny the allegations and refuse to discuss the matter with journalists.
Nearly a year after the first wave of arrest, in July last year five other exiled journalists were jailed to between eight to 15 years. Journalists Abiye Teklemariam and Mesfin Negash, Editor and managing editor respectively of a prominent Amharic weekly Addis Neger newspaper that was shut nearly three years ago, were jailed in absentia for eight years each. Most of the editorial staff at the newspaper went into exile after the decision by its editors to close down the paper in the face of what they said was an eminent threat by the government to charge them under the same anti-terrorism law. The government consistently denies the allegation by the editors of the newspaper.
Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law includes a very wide range of conducts- far beyond the limits of what can reasonably be considered terrorist activity including non-violent opposition against the government.
Human rights activists say the definition of terrorism in this proclamation is so broad that it could be used to prosecute peaceful political protestors and would in some circumstances impose lengthy prison periods and even death penalty as a punishment for light offences as that of damaging property or disrupting services.