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.