July 7, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) – Despite calls by the opposition parties and international human right organizations to review the contested anti-terrorism law, the Ethiopian parliament on Tuesday approved the draft of bill unchanged.
Ethiopian lawmaker passed the bill with 286 votes in favor of the legislation, 91 against and one abstention.
The newly adopted anti-terrorism proclamation considers as "acts of terrorism" damage to property and disruption to any public service. Cooperation in these terror acts could be sanctioned by 15 years of imprisonment or even the death penalty.
"Whosoever writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging terrorist acts is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 10 to 20 years," the adopted bill further says.
Following the endorsement of the Anti-Terror Proclamation in Ethiopia, Amnesty International warned the law could restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to fair trial, with serious implications in the run up to Ethiopia’s 2010 parliamentary election.
"The Anti-Terror Proclamation is expected to provide Ethiopian authorities with unnecessarily far reaching powers which could lead to further arbitrary arrests," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa programme director.
National elections will be held in the country in 2010. Ethiopian opposition accuses the government of harassment, closing down their offices and intimidating their candidates.
"This is a law that deliberately came on the eve of Ethiopian’s next year’s national election; so as to use the bill as a weapon to weaken and bound opposition roles and create uncompetitive election," some opposition members told Sudan Tribune by telephone from Addis Ababa.
"The law will definitely lead to political space shut down and could trigger to a worst bloodshed in the next Ethiopian election and then after," he further said.
"Prime Minister Meles government is making it hard on oppositions for their peaceful struggle, if this continues opposition will be left with only one and one option, the hard way" an opposition MP told Sudan Tribune.
Thousands of protesters, political party leaders, journalists and human rights defenders were arrested and detained following the disputed 2005 elections in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) retained political power.
Human Rights Watch last week urged Ethiopian law makers to redraft the bill saying it violates fundamental freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly, and strips defendants of important due-process protections.
Human Rights Watch also warned that the law could provide a new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy.
But the Ethiopian government said that the New York-based group had misinterpreted the law and that it fully recognized the right of Ethiopians to engage in peaceful political activity.