Ethiopia’s infamous anti –terrorism law saw prominent journalists, high level opposition members take lengthy prison sentences
A court in Addis Ababa jailed blogger Eskindir Nega and opposition party members including Adualem Arage, 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 for between 18 years to life.
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, 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 and his colleagues 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 in May this year that in mid-February news emerged that Andualem Arage of the UDJ was assaulted by a fellow prisoner, who was originally a death-row inmate but was later sentenced to life imprisonment. After his 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 appears 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.
A year long proceeding
This morning a court in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskindir Nega to 18 years in prison while Andualem Arage, a father of two, was sentenced to life. Both were arrested nearly a year ago.
Similar sentencing saw five other exiled journalists jailed to between eight to 15 years. Prominent journalists Abiye Teklemariam and Mesfin Negash, Editor and managing editor respectively of a prominent Amharic weekly Addis Neger newspaper that was shut some two and a half 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 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 anti-terrorism law. The government consistently denied the allegation by the editors of the newspaper. But the court’s decision today says otherwise.
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.