- UDJ’s VP, Addis Zena reporter & two others are put away for life
- Eskinder Nega and other journalists get 8 to 18 years of prison terms
The federal High Court Lideta Third Bench imposed sentences on 24 defendants who were found guilty of multiple terrorism charges on Friday, July 13.
The opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) vice president Andualem Arage along with Birhanu Nega (PhD), Andargachew Tsige, former Addis Zena journalist Fasil Yenealem have all been sentenced to life in prison, while the dissident blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega, Natnael Mekonen and other two defendants were sentenced to 18 year prison terms. The two former Addis Neger journalists, Mesfin Negash and Abiy Teklemariam were sentenced to eight years in jail. Dr. Birhanu, Andargachew, Fasil, Mesfin and Abiy were sentenced in absentia. Dr. Birhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige are top officials of the outlawed Ginbot 7 Political Party.
Andualem, Eskinder, Natnael and other defendants did not attempt to mitigate the penalty on the grounds that their case is politically motivated. After hearing the opinion of Andualem on June 27, who denied any wrong doing except his involvement in a peaceful political activity, the court ordered all others to submit their opinion through the office. The court also refused to accept the plea of other defendants who professed their innocence.
The U.S. Department of State expressed deep concern about the Ethiopian government’s conviction of the 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,” the U.S. Department of State noted.
The International Press Institute (IPI) strongly denounced the long prison sentences handed down to journalist and writer Eskinder Nega, as well as the punishments given to the five other journalists who were tried in absentia, all of whom were convicted of “terrorism” in late June 2012.
“We are saddened that despite international condemnation by journalists and political leaders around the world, Ethiopia persisted in the persecution of Eskinder Nega and his colleagues in exile, simply because they spoke out against the government of the day,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, known as CPJ, was more condemnatory in its statement. “The conviction of six Ethiopian journalists on vague terrorism charges is an affront to the rule of law and the constitution in the Horn of Africa country. We condemn the convictions of Eskinder Nega and five other journalists who exercised their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “With its ruling, the court has effectively criminalized free expression, trivialized the genuine threat of terrorism, and undermined the credibility of the judicial system in Ethiopia.”
The Human Rights Watch rather came out with strong criticism against the terrorist law. “This case shows that Ethiopia’s government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The use of draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of law. This provision is contrary to the principle of legality, which requires that people be able to determine what acts would constitute a crime,” Human Rights Watch said.
The Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns over the law’s broad definition of “terrorist acts,” which can be used to prosecute lawful, peaceful dissent. The two journalists who were tried in absentia, MesfinNegash and Abiye Tekle Mariam, were convicted under the law’s article on support for terrorism, which contains a vague prohibition on ‘moral support.’
The Amnesty International Press release put out after the Friday verdict shows similar concern over the law: “The imprisonment of Eskinder, Andualem and Nathnael is emblematic of the Ethiopian government’s determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country. All three men are prisoners of conscience – convicted and imprisoned because of their legitimate and peaceful activities. They should be immediately and unconditionally released. The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members.”
Amnesty added that the trial fell short of international standards of fair trial in a number of ways. And hence Amnesty called on the Ethiopian government that the sentenced defendants be retried or released.