Last Friday (13 July), an Ethiopian court condemned a leading member of the political opposition to life in prison and sentenced a well‑known blogger to 18 years. Further sentences, ranging between 8 years and life, were handed down to 18 other people, including a number of journalists currently living in exile. All the verdicts were based on Ethiopia’s Anti‑Terrorism Proclamation, with most of the defendants accused of “conspiracy” to topple the Government, among other crimes.
Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy, issued the following statement today:
“I am completely appalled by the conviction of the well‑known blogger Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, member of the Ethiopian opposition. The extremely long sentences of 18 years and life imprisonment that an Ethiopian court has passed under the Anti‑Terrorism Proclamation are devastatingly severe.
This case is a prime example of how freedom of opinion, freedom of the press and political dissent are being constrained in Ethiopia. Justified though the fight against terrorism certainly is, the way Ethiopia’s Anti‑Terrorism Proclamation is being applied remains questionable, to say the least.
I call on the relevant Ethiopian authorities to release Eskinder Nega, Andualem Arage and the others who have been convicted and to review the decisions against them as well as the legislation they were based on, giving due consideration to human rights concerns. The Ethiopian Government has a duty, not least under the provisions of the country’s own constitution, to guarantee complete freedom of opinion and of the press.”
Eskinder Nega, blogger and recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, is one of 24 Ethiopian nationals convicted last month under the Anti‑Terrorism Proclamation. It was the third trial in eight months in which journalists have been among the accused.
Ethiopia is at number 127 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2011‑2012. Non‑governmental organizations consider freedom of the media to be in a bad state in Ethiopia and have appealed to the Ethiopian Government not to use the Anti‑Terrorism Proclamation adopted in summer 2009 to silence journalists, human rights activists and members of the political opposition.