Ethiopia’s regime using terrorism charges to destroy opponents

Ethiopia uses anti-terror laws to silence critical journalists

By Caelainn Barr | The Guardian

The Ethiopian government is using sweeping anti-terror laws to crack down on journalists critical of the regime. In the last three months, six journalists have been imprisoned, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

They include two Swedish journalists – Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson – who were charged a fortnight ago with terrorism. The two men were arrested in early July after crossing from Puntland into Ethiopia‘s troubled Ogaden region.

In the last two weeks Ethiopian security forces detained two Ethiopian journalists, Eskinder Nega and Sileshi Hagos. Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the journalists, of plotting “a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc.”

Two other Ethiopian journalists were detained over the summer and have been held on terror charges for writing articles criticising the government.

Wubishet Taye of the Arawamba Times and Reeyot Alaemu, a part-time columnist, are currently held in Maikelawi prison in Addis Ababa awaiting trial. They could face sentences of up to 20 years.

“In the past four months, authorities have used sweeping terrorism laws to detain six independent journalists in an attempt to wipe out the few critical voices left in the country,” said CPJ’s east Africa consultant, Tom Rhodes.

“If the authorities have credible evidence against any of these journalists, let them present it publicly. Otherwise, they must release them.”

Anti-Terrorism proclamation of 2009

In 2009, the Ethiopian government passed anti-terror legislation, with definitions of terrorist activity that are broad and ambiguous.

It permits a clampdown on political dissent, including political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy that are deemed supportive of armed opposition activity.

It also deprives defendants of the right to be presumed innocent and of protection against the use of evidence obtained through torture.

Mohamed Keita, coordinator for the CPJ’s Africa programme, says: “Ethiopia is certainly one of the most restrictive nations in Africa in terms of press freedom. It has one of the most appalling press freedom records on the continent.”

International broadcasters harassed

The free press expanded under the Ethiopian government when the ruling party, the EPRDF, first came to power in 1991.

But in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, when the contested results caused civil unrest and the massacre of 193 civilians, there has been a relentless crackdown on the independent press.

Many publications were shut down and 13 editors imprisoned. Today, most of the media in Ethiopia is state-owned. Even the international media are not immune to political interference.

Both Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW) have had their radio and internet services jammed within the country.

This occurred particularly during the May 2010 elections and in 2011 against the backdrop of the revolt in North Africa.

A VOA spokesperson said: “Three VOA stringers have had to flee Ethiopia because they were harassed for reporting VOA’s Horn of Africa service during the 2005 national election.

“Another stringer fled Ethiopia because she was being repeatedly harassed, even after she stopped working for the service.”

Ludger Schadomsky, head of DW’s Amharic service, said: “The government is putting a lot of pressure to bear on DW and VOA to have certain opposition people removed from the airwaves.”

DW have allegedly been told by Ethiopia’s minister of communications, Shimles Kemal, that the jamming of their services was “owing to interviews DW had conducted with ‘terrorist organisations.'”

It is alleged that this relates to an interview with the Ginbot 7 political opposition leader, Berhanu Nega.

Schadomsky said: “We have made it clear we will not be arm twisted into self-censorship. The present climate of fear leads many of our prospective partners in Ethiopia, and even in the Diaspora, to decline our interview requests. ‘We have family back at home’ is the standard line.”

A cable released by WikiLeaks [05ADDISABABA3915] reveals that in 2005 the Ethiopian government also exerted pressure on US diplomats over VOA broadcasts.

The document is an interesting commentary on the government’s position on the media. The US diplomat reports that, the Ethiopian government “remains focused on issues of control and restraint… rather than positive engagement and outreach.”

When the foreign minister, Tekeda Alemu, met diplomats at the US embassy in Addis he expressed his concern at VOA’s biased reporting.

He contended that VOA was “not working as a news outfit but was instead carrying out political activities intended to damage the EPRDF and the Ethiopian people with no sense of embarrassment or proportion.”

Journalists in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, the threat of imprisonment for political journalists is constant.

Dawit Kebede is editor of the Awramba Times, one of the few independent publications in the country.

He was arrested and imprisoned for two years on charges of treason and genocide following the 2005 elections when he wrote a column suggesting that the EPRDF may have lost the elections.

He said: “The recent atmosphere in Ethiopia for journalists is the state of insecurity and fear of what tomorrow might bring. Journalists who write on political issues work under a shadow of fear.

“When it comes to giving aid, donors should ask about the democratic status of Ethiopia. If they could bring up issues of ‘What does freedom of the press look like’ as a precondition of their aid, I believe it would create better conditions in Ethiopia.”

The bureau has asked the Ethiopian government on numerous occasions for a comment about the media in Ethiopia. It has declined the chance to respond.

See also Committee to Protect Journalists/Reporters Without Borders and recent articles by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, here

6 thoughts on “Ethiopia’s regime using terrorism charges to destroy opponents

  1. Mulugheta T. on

    Hi Elias the Great (do not feel tired; we are with you),

    The Ethiopian ethnic minority regime of beggars is nurturing day and night ethnic differences in our mother land. We must not be abided by the voted-out regime and instead it must be thrown out away once and forever. What we need to do is simple: to stand up united for our rights. This regime is already dead, we need not to be afraid that it would retaliate.
    Let us put an end to all the tyranny which is inflicted upon us by the Woyanes and live democratically in peace with all our ethnic differnces. Ethnic difference is a bless, if used properly; it can be a motor on the march to prosperity and to live in peace with our neighbouring countries. Woyane has initiated war against our neighbouring countries, when what we need to progress is peace. How long shall he kill us under the pretext of terrorism.
    So, my brothers and sisters, let us give him the last blow. The time is NOW.

  2. The Patriot! on

    The terrorized terror regime of Woyane clique and its Fear Incorporated Mass Management!
    What does fear do to us and the consequences of being fear-based or operating from fear?
    It is in the meantime an unfortunate fact that the Woyane clique survives through terror, intimidations, lies, demagogue, intrigues, corruptions, ethnic politics of divide and rule, and now as their last trump card using false terrorism charges to destroy opponents!
    When we’re caught in fear, we automatically divert our focus from others or the environment and bring it into ourselves. This means self-molestation. Which again means we will end up to be manipulable, a traitor and an opportunist.
    Fear limits our worldview and life’s infinite possibilities, which make you, deny the truth, reality, and facts. Fear makes you defenseless and cowardly.
    Another way that fear limits us is by shutting us off from the opportunity to try new endeavors, entertain a new point of view, challenge old beliefs, experience new cultures, discover our desire and longings for democracy and for a positive future, take risks to experiment, and step outside the box. In other words, fear incapacitates and enslaves our soul and spirit. In short, fear is mind-numbing!
    The woyane and melles clique have used our fears to pit us against one another, because if we always are fighting each other, how can we see how we are being disenfranchised by our own?
    Woyanes main instrument to keep the Ethiopian people under control is not by persuasion, fair politics, and democratic norms or by the ballet but through manipulations, sheer violence and bullet creating fear in the minds of the population. This Hitler, Stalin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Aphartide, Idi Amin, Benito Mussolini, Pol Pot, Robert Mugabi, Gaddafi did it and now our WOYANE clique are doing it! Fact is they all ended up as the dirt of history.
    The point is if you succumb to fear, you might give up and quit or run away, but if you have courage, you can use it to fight back the evil fear. Fearing people is a dangerous trap, whereby trusting democracy means safety, means freedom, means getting rid of the Woyane clique.
    One time ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
    If we want the world community to take us, serious we have to take ourselves seriously, and fight fear by all legal means necessary. Let us not make ourselves prisoners of fear.
    Fear drives you to irrationality and insanity. That is exactly what is happening to the Woyane cliques.. They are possessed for fear of DEMOCRACY that they ended up being THE TERRORIZED TERROR REGIME! Their enemy is none other than the idea of giving in to democratic norms… They are terrorized of giving in to the rule of human right.. They are terrorized of being accountable of the deeds they did in the past.. They are terrorized of being forced to transparency… They are terrorized of the rule of law… Most of all Woyanes are terrorized of a weapon which happened to be a harmless SMALL PEN and honest and courageous journalists hence come with insane, irrational and ridicules mockery accusations such as using false terrorism charges to destroy opponents!
    Those who are emancipated of the evil of FEAR die as free Men and Women!
    Democracy will prevail in our motherland Ethiopia!

  3. Mass arrest,exponential tax hike,stealing salary in the name of millenium dam,mass arrest…indicates that woyanne is bankrupt and petrified,their demise is near.May god deliver us from these blood-sucking monsters

  4. Helena on

    It has now come to light that it was definetely the Brits with the approval of the US State department who had been encouraging the Regime in Addis Ababa to frame Eritrea in a a series of terror, meticulously, orchestrated by none other than itself.
    It’s a dangerous precedent that the officials in UK are scumpering to go out of their way making a fool of themselves trying to defend the a criminal regime.

  5. Solomon on

    Where is Tefera Walwa? Does anyone know his current whereabouts? Is he still in Ethiopia? Is he still member of the EPRDF?

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