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Ethiopia Must Stop Use of Anti-terror Law to Curtail Legitimate Political Debate and Dissent

January 21, 2016

Ethiopia must revise its controversial and flawed anti-terrorism proclamation and stop its routine application to stifle free expression and political dissent, the Oakland Institute and the Environmental Defender Law Center said in a new legal brief.

“Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is premised on an extremely broad and vague definition of terrorist activity,” the report said. “It is a definition that permits the government to repress internationally protected freedoms and to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy.”

The United Nations and numerous international human rights groups have long accused Ethiopia of criminalizing dissent using the 2009 anti-terrorism law, which according to the new analysis by the Oakland Institute, gives police and security forces unprecedented powers to curtail citizens’ rights. The damning 22-page report compiles existing legal analysis of the law and the government’s rampant misuse.

Since its enactment six years ago, hundreds of people — from all walks of life — including government opponents, exiled and domestic opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders have been charged as terrorists under the law, the report said. Some critics have even been charged for alleged crimes that took place before the law was ratified.

Unlike other anti-terrorism laws in the post 9/11 era, the manner in which Ethiopia’s law have been applied “violates international human rights law, as well as modern criminal justice and due process standards,” the report said. “In short, the law is a tool of repression, designed and used by the Ethiopian government to stifle its critics and political opposition, and criminalize the robust discussion of matters of enormous public interest and importance.” Suspects have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for offenses that don’t fit any credible definition to terrorism, the report added.

The Oakland Institute’s conclusions draw on wide-ranging criticism for the content and misuse of Ethiopia’s terrorism proclamation, including prior findings by the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and the United States government and the European Union.

The report, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, detailed behaviors that would otherwise be considered legitimate in democratic countries. It documents the arrest and trial of Zone 9 bloggers, who spent nearly 18 months in jail for writing articles critical of those in power; the arrest and charging of former World Bank Inspection Panel interpreter, Okello Akway Ochalla; the kidnapping in Yemen of UK citizen and opposition leader Andargachew Tsege; the prior conviction based on falsified evidence and recent re-arrest of Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba and several government critics and journalists, including Eskinder Nega.