Home | News    Sunday 13 November 2011

Ethiopia: More journalists, politicians charged with terrorism

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By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

November 12, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – A court in Ethiopia on Thursday charged 24 people, including opposition politicians and journalists, using the East African country’s controversial anti-terrorism legislation.

Dissident blogger Eskinder Nega and opposition party politicians, Andualem Arage and Natnael Mekonnen both members of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party were among those charged at Addis Ababa Federal High Court.

Eight of the defendants appeared before court, while the others are to be tried in absentia.

Government spokesman, Shimeles Kemal, said the suspects are accused of conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks against state in collaboration with an exiled opposition movement, Ginbot 7.

Addis Ababa recently branded the group a terrorist organisation along with two other home grown political groups, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Kemal further said they were involved in a terrorist plot backed by neighbour and former province Eritrea. The two countries have a tense relationship as an unresolved border conflict dating back to 2000 and accuse each other of backing the opposition and rebels in each others territory.

"They have received from the Eritrean government weapons and explosives for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities in Ethiopia," the spokesperson told AFP news agency.

If convicted, the suspects could face the possibility of life imprisonment under the Horn of Africa nation’s 2009 anti-terrorism laws.

The latest charges brought the number of journalists charged under country’s terror law since June to 10, according to research by press freedom campaign group, Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ).

"Ethiopia’s terrorism charges against journalists critical of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government are becoming vague and ludicrous," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.

"The authorities have failed to provide any hard evidence and should drop these charges immediately."

According to CPJ, Ethiopia’s “repression” over the last decade has driven the highest number of journalists into exile in the world. The country trails only Eritrea as Africa’s leading jailer of journalists.

International human rights groups criticise Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of containing a definition of terrorism, which is too broad and vague leaving it open to political manipulation.

They further accuse Ethiopian authorities of increasing the practice of using the law to detain and intimidate peaceful opposition and to punish critical journalists.

(ST)

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