Human Right Watch 2009 Report
Human Rights in Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
News and Publications
- Head of state Girma Wolde-Giorgis
- Head of government Meles Zenawi
- Death penalty retentionist
- Population 85.2 million
- Life expectancy 51.8 years
- Under-5 mortality (m/f) 151/136 per 1,000 Adult
- literacy 35.9 per cent
Restrictions on humanitarian assistance to the Somali Region (known as the Ogaden) continued. The government engaged in sporadic armed conflict against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and both forces perpetrated human rights abuses against civilians. Ethiopian troops fighting insurgents in Somalia in support of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) committed human rights abuses and were reported to have committed war crimes. Security forces arrested members of the Oromo ethnic group in Addis Ababa and in the Oromo Region towards the end of the year. Independent journalists continued to face harassment and arrest. A number of political prisoners were believed to remain in detention and opposition party leader Birtukan Mideksa, who was pardoned in 2007, was rearrested. A draft law restricting the activities of Ethiopian and international organizations working on human rights was expected to be passed by parliament in 2009. Ethiopia remained one of the world’s poorest countries with some 6.4 million people suffering acute food insecurity, including 1.9 million in the Somali Region. Background The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission completed its mandate in October, despite Ethiopia failing to implement its ruling, and the UN Security Council withdrew the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in the wake of Eritrean obstruction of its operations along the Eritrea/Ethiopia border. Thousands of Ethiopian armed forces remained in Somalia to support the TFG in armed conflict against insurgents throughout most of the year. Accusations of human rights violations committed by Ethiopian forces continued in 2008. Insurgent factions stated that they were fighting to force Ethiopia’s withdrawal from Somalia. A phased plan for Ethiopian withdrawal was included in a peace agreement signed by the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia-Djibouti and TFG representatives in late October. Ethiopian forces began to withdraw late in the year, but had not withdrawn from Somalia completely by the end of the year. The government faced sporadic armed conflict in the Oromo and Somali regions, with ONLF members also implicated in human rights abuses against civilians. Ethiopian opposition parties in exile remained active in Eritrea and in other countries in Africa and Europe. “Ethiopian forces attacked the al-Hidya mosque in Mogadishu killing 21 men…” Divisions split the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party, leading to the emergence of new opposition parties, including the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP) led by former judge Birtukan Mideksa. She was one of more than 70 CUD leaders, journalists and civil society activists convicted, then pardoned and released in 2007. Suicide bombers attacked Ethiopia’s trade mission in Hargeisa, Somaliland, on 29 October killing several Ethiopian and Somali civilians. Prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners A number of political prisoners, detained in previous years in the context of internal armed conflicts or following contested elections in 2005, remained in detention. Bekele Jirata, General Secretary of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement party, Asefa Tefera Dibaba, a lecturer at Addis Ababa University and dozens of others from the Oromo ethnic group were arrested in Addis Ababa and parts of the Oromo Region from 30 October onwards. Some of those detained were accused of financially supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Sultan Fowsi Mohamed Ali, an independent mediator, who was arrested in Jijiga in August 2007 reportedly to prevent him from giving evidence to a UN fact-finding mission, remained in detention. Tried for alleged involvement in two hand grenade attacks in 2007, he was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment in May 2008. On 15 January Birtukan Mideksa, Gizachew Shiferaw and Alemayehu Yeneneh, then senior members of the CUD, were briefly detained by police after holding party meetings in southern Ethiopia. Birtukan Mideksa was rearrested on 28 December after she issued a public statement regarding the negotiations that led to her 2007 pardon. Her pardon was revoked and the sentence of life imprisonment reinstated. Prisoner releases Many released prisoners faced harassment and intimidation, with some choosing to leave the country. Human rights defenders and lawyers Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were released on 28 March. They had been detained since November 2005 together with hundreds of opposition parliamentarians, CUD members and journalists. Unlike their co-defendants in the trial who were pardoned and released in 2007, Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie remained in detention, having refused to sign a document negotiated by local elders. They mounted a defence and were convicted by the Federal High Court of criminal incitement (although the presiding judge dissented) and sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment. When it became evident they would not be released, even after they appealed, they chose to sign the negotiated document, and were subsequently pardoned and released after serving 29 months of their sentence. Charges of conspiring to commit “outrages against the Constitution” faced by Yalemzewd Bekele, a human rights lawyer who had been working for the European Commission in Addis Ababa, were dropped, without prejudice, before trial. Abdirahman Mohamed Qani, chief of the Tolomoge sub-clan of the Ogaden clan in the Somali Region, was detained on 13 July after receiving a large public welcome when he returned from two years abroad. He was released on 7 October, and his relatives who had also been detained were reportedly released several days later. CUD activist Alemayehu Mesele, who had suffered harassment since his release from prison in 2007, fled Ethiopia in early May after he was severely beaten by unknown assailants. The editor of the Reporter newspaper Amare Aregawi was severely beaten by unknown assailants on 31 October in Addis Ababa. He had previously been detained by security officers in August. In September, the government announced that it had released 394 prisoners and commuted one death sentence to life imprisonment to mark the Ethiopian New Year.
Freedom of expression
Independent journalists continued to face harassment and arrest. At least 13 newspapers shut down by the government in 2005 were still closed. Independent journalists were reportedly denied licences to operate, although others did receive licences. Serkalem Fasil, Eskinder Nega and Sisay Agena, former publishers of Ethiopia’s largest circulation independent newspapers, who had been detained with CUD members, were denied licences to open two new newspapers. In February the Supreme Court upheld a decision to dissolve the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) and hand over its assets to a rival union formed by the government, also known as the Ethiopian Teachers Association. This action followed years of harassment and detention of union members. In December the union, under its new name, the National Teachers’ Association, had its application for registration as a professional organization rejected. On World Press Freedom Day (3 May) Alemayehu Mahtemework, publisher of the monthly Enku, was detained and 10,000 copies of his publication impounded. He was released after five days without charge and copies of the magazine were later returned to him. In November a Federal High Court judge convicted editor-in chief of the weekly Enbilta, Tsion Girma, of “inciting the public through false rumours” after a reporting mistake. She reportedly paid a fine and was released.
Human rights defenders
A draft Charities and Societies Proclamation was revised several times by the government in 2008, but remained threatening to the rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression. Its provisions included severe restrictions on the amount of foreign funding Ethiopian civil society organizations working on human rights-related issues could receive from abroad (no more than 10 per cent of total revenues). It would also establish a Civil Societies Agency with sweeping authority over organizations carrying out work on human rights and conflict resolution in Ethiopia. It was expected to be passed into law by Parliament in early 2009.
Ethiopian troops in Somalia
Ethiopia maintained a significant troop presence in Somalia which supported the TFG until the end of the year. Ethiopian forces committed human rights abuses and were reported to have committed war crimes. Ethiopian forces attacked the al-Hidya mosque in Mogadishu killing 21 men, some inside the mosque, on 19 April. More than 40 children were held for some days after the mosque raid before being released . Many attacks by Ethiopian forces in response to armed insurgents were reported to have been indiscriminate and disproportionate, often occurring in densely civilian-populated areas.
Internal armed conflict
The government continued counter-insurgency operations in the Somali Region, which increased after attacks by the ONLF on an oil installation in Obole in April 2007. These included restrictions on humanitarian aid which have had a serious impact on conflict-affected districts of the region. The government did not allow unhindered independent access for human rights monitoring. Reports, dating back to 2007, of beatings, rape and other forms of torture, forcible conscription and extrajudicial executions in the Somali Region were investigated by a government-contracted body but not by an independent international body. Torture and other ill-treatment Reports of torture made by defendants in the trial of elected parliamentarian Kifle Tigeneh and others, one of several CUD trials, were not investigated. Conditions in Kaliti prison and other detention facilities were harsh – overcrowded, unhygienic and lacking adequate medical care. Among those detained in such conditions were long-term political prisoners held without charge or trial, particularly those accused of links to the OLF. Mulatu Aberra, a trader of the Oromo ethnic group accused of supporting the OLF, was released on 1 July on bail and fled the country. He had been arrested in November 2007 and reportedly tortured and denied medical treatment for resulting injuries while in detention.
While a number of death sentences were imposed by courts in 2008, no executions were reported. In May the Federal Supreme Court overturned earlier rulings and sentenced to death former President Mengistu Haile Mariam (in exile in Zimbabwe) and 18 senior officials of his Dergue government. The prosecution had appealed against life imprisonment sentences passed in 2007, after they were convicted by the Federal High Court of genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated between 1974 and 1991. On 6 April a court sentenced to death five military officers in absentia. They served under Mengistu Haile Mariam, and were held responsible for air raids in Hawzen, in the Tigray Region, which killed hundreds in a market in June 1980. On 8 May a court in Tigray Region found six people guilty of a bus bombing in northern Ethiopia between Humora and Shira on 13 March and sentenced three of them to death. On 21 May the Federal Supreme Court sentenced eight men to death for a 28 May 2007 bombing in Jijiga in the Somali Region. On 22 May a military tribunal sentenced to death in absentia four Ethiopian pilots , who sought asylum while training in Israel in 2007. —————————- ——————- ————–
An Analysis of Ethiopia’s Draft Anti-Terrorism Law
This paper analyses Ethiopia’s draft Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and assesses to what extent the proposed law on its face conforms to international human rights standards. The draft law has been submitted to Parliament by the Council of Ministers and may be passed into law before the end of the current legislative session in July 2009. A first unofficial draft of the law obtained by Human Rights Watch earlier in the year contained numerous provisions that fundamentally contravened human rights guaranteed by Ethiopia’s constitution and international law. Only one of those provisions has been substantively revised, leaving the current draft law dangerously broad and inimical to fundamental human rights. The draft law is premised on an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of terrorist activity that could permit the government to repress a wide range of internationally protected freedoms, and contains provisions that undermine fundamental due process rights. If implemented as currently drafted, this law could provide the Ethiopian government with a potent instrument to crack down on political dissent, including peaceful political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy that are deemed supportive of armed opposition activity. It would permit long-term imprisonment and even the death penalty for “crimes” that bear no resemblance, under any credible definition, to terrorism. It would in certain cases deprive defendants of the right to be presumed innocent, and of protections against use of evidence obtained through torture. The draft Proclamation is even more alarming when placed in the context of concerns over political repression, suppression of free speech and independent civil society, the impunity conferred on security forces, and the potential for consolidation of ruling party power in the run-up to national elections in 2010. Human Rights Watch takes no position as to whether anti-terrorism legislation is needed to fill gaps in Ethiopia’s existing criminal code. But even if that need exists, the draft Proclamation requires more than a substantial revision. Given the ways in which its provisions on their face violate fundamental due process rights of individuals and unlawfully restrict basic freedoms due all Ethiopians, the law’s drafters should revise the legislation so that the protection of human rights is recognized as essential for the prosecution of genuine acts of terrorism, not as an obstacle.
In recent years, armed groups have committed a number of bombings and other attacks in Ethiopia or on Ethiopia’s diplomatic missions. A May 2008 explosion on a minibus in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, for which a little known group called the Islamic Guerrillas claimed responsibility, killed three people on the eve of national celebrations. In October 2008 the Ethiopian trade mission in Hargeisa, Somaliland, was one of the targets of multiple suicide bombings that killed at least 20 people; the attacks were blamed on al-Shabaab, a Somali armed group with alleged links to al Qaeda. Ethiopia reportedly considered adopting anti-terror legislation in 2006, and a law was said to be in preparation in 2008. In June 2009 Human Rights Watch obtained an English-language translation of the draft as submitted to parliament by the Council of Ministers. This analysis is based on that draft. An earlier version of this analysis was based on an unofficial draft of the Proclamation dated January 2009. To date the draft anti-terrorism legislation does not appear to have been publicly circulated or discussed, including with civil society, although a public debate took place in parliament on June 25, 2009. Analysis of the Draft Anti-Terrorism Legislation The provisions of Ethiopia’s draft Anti-Terrorism Proclamation can be broadly grouped under the following categories: defining terrorism and terrorist acts and imposing penalties (parts I and II); expanding police powers, including powers of arrest and detention (part III); modifying trial procedures and evidentiary rules (part IV); designating terrorist organizations and freezing assets (part V); designating institutional and judicial jurisdiction over terrorism crimes (part VI); and miscellaneous provisions (part VII).
The draft Proclamation provides an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism that could be used to criminalize non-violent political dissent and various other activities that should not be deemed as terrorism. The draft Proclamation states that anyone who-with the purpose of “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and intending to “influence the government;” “intimidate the public or section of the public;” [or] “to destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social institutions of the country”-commits: an act that causes death or serious injury; an act that creates risk to the safety or health of the public; kidnapping or hostage taking; serious damage to property; damage to natural resources, the environment, or the historical or cultural heritage; or “endangers, seizes or puts under control, causes interference or disruption of any public service”-is subject to punishment by “rigorous imprisonment from 15 years to life or with death.” This definition of terrorism includes acts that do not involve violence or injury to people, such as property crimes and disruption of public services. The United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights has stated that the concept of terrorism should be limited to acts committed with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages, and should not include property crimes. In addition, permitting the death penalty for property crimes would violate the requirement under international law that the death penalty only be imposed for the “most serious crimes.” The broad and ambiguous definition of terrorist acts under the draft Proclamation could readily be used to criminalize acts of peaceful political dissent that result in “disruption of public services”-as public demonstrations sometimes do. A non-violent march that blocked traffic could qualify as a terrorist act, subjecting protestors to 15 years to life in prison, or possibly even the death penalty. The law might also permit prosecutions on terrorism charges for minor acts of violence committed in the context of political activism: thus a political protestor who damages a police car or breaks the window of a government building could conceivably be prosecuted as a terrorist. Furthermore, an individual need only “threaten to commit” any of the relevant acts, including property crimes and “disruption of public service,” to be prosecuted as a terrorist and punished with a minimum 15 years’ imprisonment, or death. The overly broad definition of terrorist acts has implications for other parts of the Proclamation. For instance a “terrorist organization” is defined as “a.) a group, association or organization which is composed of not less than two members with the objective of committing acts of terrorism or plans, prepares, executes acts of terrorism or assists or incites others in any way to commit acts of terrorism, [or] b.) an organization proscribed in accordance with this proclamation.” As noted above, the definition of “acts of terrorism” could include acts of political dissent. Therefore a group of two or more individuals who engage in peaceful political protest could be deemed a “terrorist organization,” and membership deemed a crime, subject to five to 20 years’ “rigorous imprisonment.” The draft Proclamation also contains broad and ambiguous language prohibiting material support for terrorism. Those providing “moral support or … advice” or “provid[ing] or mak[ing] available any property in any manner” to an individual accused of a terrorist act could be deemed a terrorist supporter under the law. Someone who advised, or even just offered water and food to a political protester might find themselves charged with terrorism under this provision. Possessing or using property knowing or intending that it be used to commit a terrorist act (as defined by the draft statute) is a crime subject to five to 20 years’ imprisonment. Possession of property that a person “ha[s] reason to know” are proceeds of terrorism is punishable by five to 15 years’ “rigorous imprisonment”. Coupled with the broad and ambiguous definition of terrorist acts, these provisions open the door to a wide range of ways in which individuals seeking to express political dissent could find themselves prosecuted for terrorism and imprisoned for five to 20 years. For example, someone who held a sign used in a non-violent political protest that blocked traffic could arguably be found guilty of possession of property used to commit a terrorist act.
Infringement of Freedoms of Speech and Expression
Many national counterterrorism laws contain provisions criminalizing speech that incites or supports terrorism. But important international standards on freedom of speech require that such restrictions be limited to speech that directly incites-or is likely to result in-an imminent crime. The draft Proclamation states that “whosoever writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts stipulated under … this Proclamation, or the objectives of [a] terrorist organization; […] is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 10 years to 20 years.” Such a provision would violate the right to freedom of expression under international law even if the definition of “terrorist act” were in conformity with international standards. In addition to relying on the overly broad definition of “terrorist acts,” this provision is problematic because the provision criminalizes speech ambiguously “encouraging,” “advancing,” or “in support” of terrorist acts even if there is no direct incitement to violence. Individuals who merely speak in favor of any of the “terrorist acts” could be convicted for encouraging terrorism, and sentenced to 10 to 20 years of “rigorous imprisonment.” For example, students participating in a peaceful demonstration seeking to influence government policy-or even someone merely voicing support for such a demonstration without participating-could be subjected to a 10- to 20-year prison term. Human Rights Watch is also concerned that the inclusion of the references to writing and editing may be aimed at the nation’s media. If the government were to place longstanding armed opposition groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) (which have already been banned) on the list of proscribed terrorist organizations, even a mundane newspaper article describing an Oromo student protest could be deemed “encouragement of terrorism.” This scenario is quite likely given that the Ethiopian government has repeatedly sought to characterize the attacks of the ONLF and other insurgent groups as “terrorist” activities. The government already imprisons government critics and opposition figures and accuses them of supporting the OLF, ONLF, and other opposition groups. Ethiopia has sought-so far unsuccessfully-to place the ONLF and other Ethiopian armed opposition movements on the US and UN sanctions lists for supporting terrorism. A journalist interviewing an opposition politician or a supporter of an armed opposition group could be deemed to be “encouraging” terrorism merely by publicizing the views of the interviewee.
Expansion of Police Powers without Due Process Guarantees
The draft Anti-Terrorism Proclamation expands police powers in significant ways. Despite Ethiopian constitutional protections, the police and armed forces have long been implicated in arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and torture and other mistreatment of persons in custody. Thus, the expansion of police powers without a serious effort to improve protections for those detained raises serious concerns that the law may facilitate further abuses.
Powers of Arrest, Search, and Seizure
The draft Proclamation distinguishes between a “sudden search” and a “covert search.” A covert search requires a court-approved search warrant if an officer “has reasonable grounds to believe that a terrorist act has been or is likely to be committed.” However a “sudden search” of “body and property” can be authorized by the director general of the Federal Police or his designee, without judicial oversight, if a police officer has “reasonable suspicion that a terrorist act will be committed and deems it necessary to make a sudden search.” This gives the police and other security services almost unlimited power to conduct body searches, and search or seize property based solely on the belief that terrorist activity “will be” or has been committed. The provision contains no warrant requirement or any requirement of exigent circumstances that would make a warrantless search or seizure justified. The National Intelligence and Security Services is also provided authority to “intercept or conduct surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal, and similar communications of a person suspected of terrorism,” and to enter any premise to install and intercept communications after obtaining a court warrant. Should a police officer believe a terrorist act “will be” committed in a particular place, he has the power to destroy property or restrict movement, even without any requirement of exigency. Those who fail to cooperate with the police are subject to three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The police also have the power to order “any government institution, official, bank, or a private organization or an individual” to provide information or evidence “which [the police officer] reasonably believes could assist to prevent or investigate terrorism cases,” without any warrant.
Detention without Charge
The draft Proclamation grants the police the power to make arrests without a warrant, so long as the officer “reasonably suspects” that the person is committing or has committed a terrorist act. The Ethiopian constitution requires that a person taken into custody must be brought before a court within 48 hours and informed of the reasons for their arrest-a protection that is already systematically violated. The draft Proclamation reiterates the constitutional protection to be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest, but then permits the police to request additional investigation periods of 28 days each from a court before filing charges, up to a maximum of four months. Currently, Ethiopian police routinely detain people without charge for months, and sometimes ignore judicial orders for release. Providing a statutorily-permitted period of four months whereby individuals may be detained without charge is likely to lead to even further abuses. International law requires that anyone arrested shall be promptly brought before a judicial authority and criminally charged.
Violation of the Right to Bodily Integrity
The draft Proclamation gives the police the power-without a warrant-to order a suspect in their custody to provide samples of blood and other body fluids, handwriting, hair, fingerprints, and undergo medical tests, and states that “if the suspect is not willing for the test, the police may use force.” Evidentiary Rules and Use of Evidence Obtained by Torture The draft Proclamation sets new evidentiary standards for terrorism cases under the legislation that are far more permissive than the rules covering ordinary cases. Under these new rules, hearsay or “indirect evidences” can be admitted in court without any limitation. Official intelligence reports can also be admitted “even if the report does not disclose the source or the method it was gathered.” By making intelligence reports admissible in court even if the sources and methods are not disclosed, the law effectively allows evidence obtained under torture (if defense counsel cannot ascertain the methods by which intelligence was collected, they cannot show that it was collected in an abusive way). The draft Proclamation deems confessions admissible without a restriction on the use of statements made under torture. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment explicitly prohibits the use of any statement made as a result of torture as evidence in legal proceedings. The Ethiopian constitution also bars the use of statements obtained through coercion.
Additional Provisions of Concern
The draft Proclamation makes the failure to disclose information or evidence that may assist to “prevent terrorist act before its commission” or may contribute to “arrest, prosecute or punish a suspect” a crime that carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ “rigorous imprisonment.” Also, any person who knowingly provides false information about a terrorist act, or “believing that the information is false” (a standard that falls short of actual knowledge) also faces punishment of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. Such provisions could put citizens in an impossible position: On the one hand they could be charged with a crime for providing information that turns out to be false. On the other hand, they could be convicted of a crime for failing to provide information. The law also imposes an obligation to notify police within 24 hours if a foreigner is living in one’s house, and to provide the police a copy of the foreigner’s passport. This violates the right under international law not to be subjected to arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home. Changes from the January 2009 Draft of the Proclamation There were very few substantive changes from a January 2009 draft of the law and the version that was ultimately submitted to parliament. Those worth noting here are as follows: The only major positive change to the current draft is that a provision in the January 2009 draft that allowed for shifting the burden of proof onto suspects who confess has been eliminated altogether. This was one of the worst provisions of the first draft, as it could have led to confessions extracted under torture being used to shift the burden of proof onto criminal defendants. The draft Proclamation’s definition of “terrorist acts”-one of the most alarming aspects of the first draft of the law-is even broader than it was in the January 2009 draft. The new draft expands the intent element of the crime. The first draft provided that carrying out one of the enumerated acts “with the intention of coercing or intimidating the government” was an act of terrorism. The new draft changes this to “intending to influence the government.” There is some uncertainty as to whether this was a deliberate change or an issue of translation from the Amharic version of the draft law, which is not currently available to Human Rights Watch. Section 14 of the draft Proclamation now requires that surveillance and interception of communications requires a court warrant; the first draft did not. However as noted above most of the other search and seizure provisions in the draft remain without any kind of warrant requirement. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Anti-terrorism legislation further restricts Ethiopian press
¨ July 23, 2009 His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi c/o Embassy of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the United States 3506 International Drive, NW Washington, D.C. 20008 Via facsimile: (202) 587-0195 Dear Prime Minister: We are writing to express our serious concerns about legislation that would further restrict press freedom in Ethiopia and about an ongoing pattern of criminal prosecutions, administrative restrictions, and Internet censorship. We are concerned that these measures, which official rhetoric has publicly justified as policies to safeguard the “constitutional order,” actually criminalize independent political coverage and infringe on press freedom as guaranteed by the Ethiopian Constitution. We call on you to use your influence to reverse this trend. On July 7, the Ethiopian House of Peoples’ Representatives passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation despite concerns raised by legal experts, lawmakers, and the private press about sweeping statutes that restrict fundamental constitutional rights, including press freedom. Several journalists, who asked that their names be withheld for fear of government reprisals, told CPJ they received phone calls and warnings from officials and government supporters to censor coverage scrutinizing the law. The proclamation contains far-reaching statutes giving the executive branch sweeping powers to imprison for as long as 20 years “whosoever writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates” statements deemed “encouraging, supporting, or advancing” terrorist acts. This statute effectively institutionalizes censorship of reporting the government deems favorable to groups and causes it labels as “terrorist.” Worse, the law grants the federal police and national security agency exclusive discretion to carry out warrantless interception of communications, and search and seizure solely on the basis of “reasonable belief” that a terrorist act is in progress or “will be” committed. The law also provides for terrorist suspects to be held for up to four months without charge. However, in nearly 27 months, the government has yet to take to court Eritrean state television journalists Saleh Idris Gama or Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi since identifying them among 41 people “captured” in Somalia on suspicion of terrorism. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has consistently declined to comment to CPJ’s requests for information about these imprisonments. Commenting on the legislation prior to passage, government spokesman Bereket Simon dismissed concerns of potential abuse. “This is a government that is committed to the constitutional provisions, and in the Constitution, any abuse of power is not allowed,” he told U.S. international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA). Despite these assurances however, the potential for abuse of this law is all the more troubling in light of the government’s long-standing pattern of criminal prosecution of the independent press over critical coverage, and the practices of Ethiopian judges and prosecutors in such cases. In principle, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the existing criminal code have high requirements for government prosecutors to prove intent in charges against the press, according to legal experts and CPJ analysis. In practice, however, Ethiopian judges have leniently interpreted these requirements, giving them little or no consideration. CPJ continues to document cases where government prosecutors charge journalists with the criminal code charge of “inciting the public through false rumors” for reporting allegations contradicting or questioning government’s positions or statements. Ethiopian judges have allowed such cases to proceed without questioning the positions or statements of the state, as the plaintiff in these cases, placing a disproportionate burden of proof on the defendant journalists, according to Ethiopian legal experts. We have also documented cases where judges have used “contempt of court” charges to detain journalists and censor coverage of sensitive cases, including the trial of pop singer Tewodros Kassahun. Last year, in an interview with Newsweek, you expressed hope that Ethiopia’s newly passed press reform legislation would be “on par with the best in the world.” The law intended to “ensure media diversity and provide adequate legal protection for the operational independence of media in general,” according to a February 26 press release from the Office for Government Communication Affairs. However, by all accounts, the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation fell well short of international standards. The law stiffened existing penalties for libel and granted government prosecutors the exclusive discretion to summarily block any publication for national security, but bans pretrial detentions of journalists, at least in principle. Four editors of Amharic-language weeklies have been detained this year on criminal charges, according to CPJ research, for anywhere from three to 16 days; two are still facing charges. In addition, several other journalists are facing charges and the possibility of criminal prosecutions, police interrogations, or government warnings over coverage deemed favorable to political dissidents, according to our research. The government is continuing its long-standing practice of reviving criminal prosecutions of journalists on charges dating back several years. Asrat Wedajo, former editor of the defunct Sefe Nebelbal newspaper, appeared in March before federal court in a criminal case over a story that appeared four years ago, according to local journalists. The official February 26 press release stated the administration’s commitment to “ensure the free flow of diverse ideas and information.” However, in January, a government agency, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, was given exclusive authority over media regulation. The authority immediately issued directives not included in the press law stripping any media executive with more than 2 percent ownership share of any editorial authority in order to “avoid homogeneity of news and viewpoints,” according to local news reports. In April, the agency denied licenses to three journalists–award-winning publisher Serkalem Fasil, her husband, columnist Eskinder Nega, and publisher Sisay Agena–because their now-banned publishing companies were convicted on anti-state charges in 2007. In June, it ordered private Sheger Radio to stop carrying programs from VOA, after briefly revoking the accreditations of correspondents Eskinder Firew and Meleskachew Amaha. Amaha was imprisoned this year on spurious, years-old tax charges. He was later acquitted. In addition, your government continues to filter Web sites, particularly foreign-based independent sites and blogs discussing political reform and human rights, including our site. We urge you to amend statutes in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation that undermine constitutional rights to press freedom. We ask that you conduct an independent review of judicial practices and the application of criminal statutes used to prosecute journalists, and ensure the creation of an independent media regulatory body. We call on you to lift all restrictions on the free exercise of journalism in your country. Sincerely, Joel Simon Executive Director Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC) —————————
Ethiopia: New Anti-Terrorism Proclamation jeopardizes freedom of expression
7 July 2009 Reacting to the news that the Ethiopian Parliament has today passed an Anti-Terror Proclamation in Ethiopia, Amnesty International warns that the law could restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to fair trial, with serious implications in the run up to Ethiopia’s 2010 parliamentary election. Although the Ethiopian government faces legitimate security concerns, any anti-terror legislation must be in accordance with international human rights standards. “The Government of Ethiopia has a history of stifling dissent and it is worrying that this law now risks further violating Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa programme director. “The Anti-Terror Proclamation is expected to provide Ethiopian authorities with unnecessarily far reaching powers which could lead to further arbitrary arrests”. Based on earlier drafts of the law previously made available to Amnesty International, “acts of terrorism” are vaguely defined and could encompass the legitimate expression of political dissent. The law defines “acts of terrorism” as including damage to property and disruption to any public service, for which an individual could be sentenced to 15 years in prison or even the death penalty. Thousands of protesters, political party leaders, journalists and human rights defenders were arrested and detained following the disputed November 2005 elections in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) retained political power. Ethiopia
Ethiopia: Fears Over New Anti-Terror Law
Omaeyr Rado 23 July 2009 Addis Ababa — A little over 18 years ago, when the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power, people were so eager to exercise democracy that even children started to challenge their parents saying “this is my democratic right”. Perhaps it was too good to last. Earlier this month a new anti-terror law was passed, granting sweeping powers to the state to detain people it deems threatening. It follows closely on the heels of legislation that severely restricted the operations of NGOs working human rights issues. When 17 years of armed struggle finally ended the dictatorial rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Derg in 1991, the EPRDF started preaching democracy, equality and human rights. The party soon proved impatient with opposition of any kind. In January 1993, the government carried out a brutal crackdown on students at the Addis Ababa University (AAU) who were demonstrating against the referendum on Eritrea’s independence. The incident led to the death of at least one student and 85 injuries when live ammunition fired into a crowd of unarmed students by security forces. In April of the same year, the government dismissed 40 professors from the AAU, reportedly because they were deemed too critical. There followed the harassment of the Ethiopian Teacher’s Association (ETA), its top leaders imprisoned. Human Rights Watch accuses the police of gunning down the ETA’s acting director, Assefa Maru, in 1997. More recently, the 2005 election campaign – preceded by a loosening of controls that saw opposition political parties able to freely debate issues live on even state media – was followed by violent repression, despite the EPRDF scoring a resounding victory. The opposition won a record number of seats, but in limited parts of the country; elsewhere, they alleged, government repression and intimidation had prevented them from winning even more. Street protests in the capital, Addis Ababa, led the deaths of nearly 200 at the hands of security forces. Hundreds more were wounded and thousands arbitrarily detained, including many leading opposition politicians. A number of prominent private newspapers were closed, their owners and editors charged with genocide and treason. Several were sentenced to lengthy jail terms. Over almost two decades in power, the ruling party has maintained a tight grip on power. Its latest moves suggest this is not about to change. Several months ago, the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) law was approved despite an uproar from local activists and the international community. This law expressly limits “foreign” and “Ethiopian resident” CSOs – the latter defined as any Ethiopian CSO that obtains more than ten percent of its funding from sources outside the country – from doing any work related to human rights, governance, and a range of other issues. The law makes it easy for the state to refuse to register organisations. The Ethiopian government this week suspended 42 NGOs for “exceeding their mandate” in the southern part of the country. Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation reported that the organisations had their licence revoked because, according to the local officials, they had supplied information to the United States State Department about human rights abuses in the area. The names of the organisations were not released, but are understood to include two local gender rights organisations and international humanitarian agency Médécins Sans Frontières.
With the ink barely dry on the CSO law, parliament has now approved the Anti-Terrorism Law, first crafted by the National Intelligence and Security Agency and experts from the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Police four years ago, and approved by the Council of Ministers in early June. The law is premised on an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of terrorist activity that could permit government to repress wide range of internationally-protected freedoms, and contains provisions that undermine fundamental due process rights, according to Human Rights Watch. The United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights has stated that the concept of terrorism should be limited to acts committed with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages. Ethiopia’s new law defines terrorism in such a way that it includes acts that do not involve violence or injury to people, such as property crimes and disruption of public services. The penalties range from 15 years to life imprisonment or even a death sentence. The law also gives police powers of arrest, search and seizure without guarantees of due process. The law also contains ambiguous language against material support for terrorism. An analysis by HRW suggests that who even offered water or food to a political protester might find themselves charged with aiding terrorism under the new legislation. “This [law] is a legal cover for every unlawful action the government has been and is taking against political dissent and free press,” said Beyene Petros, chairman of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) party, which voted against the legislation. But, Beyene argues, even without this law, the “security forces have been above the law. They already make arbitrary arrests and stifle freedom of expression; yet the law intensifies this practice. “We objected to the fact that the law is against the country’s constitution and the issues it is planned to address are under the jurisdiction of the existing criminal codes of the country,” he said. “The country does not need this law.” Though his Ethiopian Democratic Party also voted against the law, Lidetu Ayalew, another opposition leader, believes Ethiopia needs some kind of anti-terror law because it has been a victim of various terrorist acts. In 2007, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) took responsibility for an attack on Chinese run oil exploration field in Ogaden killing 74 people. Numerous people have been killed in other bombings and grenade attacks in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and elsewhere in the country in recent years. The Ethiopian government has alleged that these attacks were carried out by armed opposition groups like the ONLF, the Oromo Liberation Front – both fighting for autonomy of various regions – as well as groups like Al-Itihad, which springs from Ehtiopia’s volatile neighbour Somalia. The government alleges all these groups are terrorist. However, aside from the ONLF’s attack on the oil installation, the popular view is that the government itself orchestrates these attacks to incriminate its oppositions; a charge government officials of course deny. Shimeles Kemal, deputy head of the Government Communication Affairs Office, told IPS that in the current globalised world, no country is insulated from the threat of terrorism. Fears Over New Anti-Terror Law in Ethiopia NEWS — Ethiopia: Govt Suspends 42 NGOs As Hunger Worsens PRESS RELEASE — Ethiopia: Anti-Terrorism Legislation Further Restricts Press “The normal court procedures will take the police more time than they have to put terrorist threats under control,” said Kemal. “By the time the police seek a court warrant, the damage might have taken place. This law is preventive and the police need the legal provision to effectively do their job. Besides, terrorist acts are very different and highly sophisticated from other crimes,” he said. The concerns of the EDP and the most of the rest of the opposition centre on the very broad definition of terrorism at the heart of the bill, which Lidetu says could serve to incarcerate opposition. “This means the police can simply arrest opposition members for choosing their preferred way to express their dissent including armed struggle or demonstration,” Lidetu told IPS ————————– Please Correct in the Video it is not the Derg regime that ruled Ethiopia since 1991 but that of Woyane, thank you..