The Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) and the United States Department of State expressed deep concern over the Federal Court Lideta third bench conviction’s of journalist Eskinder Nega and other opposition party members on Wednesday, June 27.
Andualem Arage et al, were found guilty of the terrorism charges submitted to the court by the Federal prosecutor. Eight defendants including the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) vice president Andualem Arage, the dissident blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega, Natnael Mekonen, Kinfemichael Debebe, were present in the court. Fifteen other defendants such as Birhanu Nega (PhD), Andargachew Tsige, Journalists Fasil Yeneneh, Mesfin Negash and Abiy Teklemariam faced the same kind of conviction in absentia.
“We are deeply concerned about the Ethiopian government’s conviction of a number of journalists and opposition members under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. This practice raises serious questions and concerns about the intent of the law, and about the sanctity of Ethiopians’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” said Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson of U.S. Department of State in a statement.
The Spokesperson stated that the arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression. We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society.
Quoting State Secretary Hillary Clinton the statement added, “When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere. That is why the United States joins its global partners in calling for the release of all imprisoned journalists in every country across the globe and for the end to intimidation.”
In a press conference held in its office the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) Vice President Girma Seifu said that this was a political decision.
“First Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave his verdict on the accused calling them criminals before the due process of law took place; now the court has approved what the Premier has said. It is difficult these days to separate the judicial body from the executive. We will keep on with our peaceful struggle until the rule of law reigns in our country,” Girma said.
In their opinion to aggravate the penalty submitted to the court the prosecutors requested a heavy punishment to be imposed on the defendants. Birhanu, Andualem, and Eskinder were imprisoned and later pardoned from life sentence in the wake of the disputed 2005 election. The federal court is scheduled to hear the defendants mitigation argument on July 13, 2012.