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Ethiopian politician convicted on terror charges over facebook posts

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By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

April 16, 2017 (ADDIS ABABA) - An Ethiopian court on Tuesday passed a guilty verdict against a prominent opposition figure after he was tried under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law.

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A group of protestors carry placards in support of Oromia region (Opride.com)

Yonatan Tesfay, spokesperson for the opposition Semeyawi (Blue) party was arrested in December 2015 when unprecedented anti-government protests engulfed the Oromia region over complaints of government’s planned land grabbing, political and economic marginalisation.

He was then arrested for posting anti-government comments on Facebook.

The protests which also quickly spread to other parts of the country claimed the lives of some 600 people in clashes with security forces.

The Facebook activist in his posts accused the Ethiopian government of using "Force instead of peace discussions with the public"

Yonatan was accused of inciting and conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in collaboration with opposition movements such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) who had long been designated by Ethiopia as terrorist entities.

In response to his Facebook posts, the Ethiopian government arrested him arguing that Yonatan’s posts were in pursuit of the objectives of the OLF.

Following the guilty verdict passed today Amnesty international immediately condemned court’s ruling describing the charge as "trumped up"

Amnesty international said the terrorism verdict for Facebook posts were a shameful affront to freedom of speech.

"Today’s verdict is a miscarriage of justice. It is yet another example of how the anti-terrorism law is being used to target and destroy people who criticise the government" said Michelle Kagaro, Amnesty’s director for East Africa, the horn and the Great Lakes region.

Yonatan, due to be sentenced on 25 May, could face up to 20 years behind bars.

International rights groups had long accused Addis Ababa of using the controversial antiterrorism proclamation to silent dissent and punish critical journalists and opposition activists, an allegation it denies.

(ST)

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