RTTNews) The European Union on Saturday expressed its serious concerns over the jailing of several bloggers, journalists and opposition figures in Ethiopia under a controversial under 2009 terrorism law, which has attracted criticism from several international human rights groups for being too far-reaching.
In a statement issued Saturday, The European bloc said its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had closely followed “the case of 24 defendants charged under the Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, including journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition member Andualem Arage, through the EU Delegation in Addis Ababa which has observed all related trials so far.”
Acknowledging the judicial process and recognized the sovereign right of every country to protect itself against terrorism, the statement said EU’s top diplomat remains concerned that “a lack of clarity with regard to what constitutes a terrorism offence in the ATP can affect the freedom of expression and the freedom of association, which are enshrined in the Ethiopian Constitution.” It added that Ashton was particularly concerned about the severity of the sentences awarded to the 24 defendants under the ATP.
“The High Representative has asked the EU Delegation in Addis Ababa to continue to monitor trials under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and to continue the dialogue with the Ethiopian Government on press freedom and human rights in the context of the regular political dialogue, as embedded in the Cotonou Agreement, which is the basis for the EU-Ethiopia partnership,” the statement added.
Earlier, an Ethiopian court had sentenced Eskinder Nega to eighteen years in prison on July 13. Nega was arrested last September for publishing an article questioning arrests made under the anti-terrorism law, particularity that of renowned Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu.
He was also accused of inciting violence by writing about a possible popular unrest in Ethiopia like the Arab Spring and of supporting a US-based opposition party called Ginbot Seven, which the government has designated as a terrorist group.
The court also handed down life sentences to Arage and two other prominent opposition figures, namely Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige. Both Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige were sentenced in absentia, like five other exiled journalists who were sentenced to between 15 years to life. The remaining defendants were also awarded severe sentences.
Only eight of the 24 defendants in the case are currently in Ethiopia. The remaining 16 were convicted and sentenced in absentia. All the defendants were accused of several offenses, including conspiring to dismantle the constitutional order, encouraging terrorism and high treason under the controversial 2009 legislation.
Incidentally, two Ethiopian journalists were sentenced to 14 years in prison in January on similar charges. Previously, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison in December. All of them were accused of having links with the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Like Ginbot Seven, the Ethiopian government has designated the ONLF also as a terrorist organization. The ONLF has been fighting the Ethiopian government for securing greater independence for the Ogaden region bordering Somalia.
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