Ethiopia needs to reconfigure its anti-terrorism laws

According to Human Rights Watch, three journalists, an opposition leader and another person were convicted Jan 19 of conspiring to commit terrorist acts.  They could face 15 years to life or the death penalty.

The Anti-terrorism Proclamation of 2009 is overtly vague by stating that terrorist acts can include “acts of peaceful protest that result in the ‘disruption of any public services’. The law also includes vague provisions that proscribe support for, or encouragement of, terrorism, which can include public reporting on banned terrorist groups.”

According to the government spokesman (from an article by the AP), the government alleges that Government “they were involved in planning attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications and power lines.”

However, according to HRW, the charge sheet, which contains evidence against the five dissidents, consisted of online articles that were critical of the government and telephone conversations regarding peaceful protest actions.  This does not sound like conspiring to commit terrorism to me. Instead, it sounds like the government is trying to squash any political dissidents by throwing them in jail.

Once they were in jail, the “prisoners” were given no legal counsel during pretrial detention and they had reported they had been tortured, which was not investigated by the court.

The current law needs to be amended so it is narrowly tailored, so the government cannot deem who and what are “conspiring to commit terrorism.”  Having a law that convicts those who ARE terrorists is not a bad thing; in fact, most countries have such a law.  But the law cannot and should not be tailored in such a way that enables its government to decide for itself who is a “terrorist.”  By allowing a government to act in such an arbitrary manner, freedom of expression and due process are seriously hindered.

Ethiopia’s government needs to release the defendants, re-tailor the law and look into the allegations that the defendants were tortured because treating people in such a manner just because they are dissenting the government cannot and will not stand in the international community.

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About Haley Behre

I graduated from Syracuse University in December 2011 with majors in newspaper journalism and women and gender studies. Using these majors, I aspire to become a journalist who writes about human rights issues. I have held internships at the Syracuse New Times, Dash Media PR Firm, Syracuse Post-Standard and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. I also had an internship at the Not For Sale Campaign Syracuse chapter, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking. I was born in Seoul, Korea on September 30, 1990 and moved to the United States before I was one year old. When I was 8, my family and I moved to Norwich, England for three years. While I was here I was immersed into a new culture and got to experience many things other children my age do not get to. Over the three years, I visited Ireland, France and the Netherlands several times, and Belgium, Wales and Sweden once. In the winter of 2010, I got an amazing opportunity to visit Kenya for a month. This was by far the single most eye-opening experience of my life thus far. The natural beauty of the landscape and its people do not compare to anything I have seen. I currently intern for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press in the hopes of getting a full-time job at a newspaper or non-profit after.
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