Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Eskinder Nega, 5 exiled journalists convicted of terrorism

CPJ News Release
Nairobi, June 27, 2012

Today's conviction of six Ethiopian journalists on vague terrorism charges is an affront to the rule of law and the constitution in the Horn of Africa country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. At least 11 journalists have been charged with terrorism since November 2011, according to CPJ research.

Before issuing the court's verdict, Judge Endeshaw Adane in the Lideta Federal High Court in Addis Ababa, the capital, accused blogger Eskinder Nega, and five exiled Ethiopian journalists tried in absentia, of using "the guise of freedom" to "attempt to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order," according to news reports. The defendants, who were among 24 charged with anti-state crimes, return to court for sentencing on July 13. News accounts reported that the prosecutor requested life sentences--the maximum penalty--for all of them.

Eskinder and the five convicted journalists have professed their innocence, according to news reports. The journalists include Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam of the U.S.-based Addis Neger Online; Abebe Gellaw of the U.S.-based Addis Voice; Abebe Belew of the U.S.-based Internet radio Addis Dimts; and Fasil Yenealem of the Netherlands-based ESAT, according to news reports.

The judge accused Eskinder of wanting to spark an Arab Spring-style popular revolt in Ethiopia through the use of online articles and a speech in a public forum shortly before his arrest in September 2011, according to news reports. Prior to this, police had detained Eskinder and told him to stop writing about the Arab Spring. The journalist had also published an online column questioning the government's use of the anti-terrorism law to silence dissent and calling on the government to respect freedom of expression.

The journalists were accused of being linked with the opposition Ginbot 7, which the government has designated a terrorist group, as well as other outlawed groups. They were also accused of "allowing terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front, and Ogaden National Liberation Front to express their terrorist ideas and promote their agendas on their online publication," according to a translation of the original charge sheet.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, human rights defenders, three U.N. special rapporteurs, and three members of U.S. Congress have publicly criticized the Ethiopian government for using the sweeping anti-terrorism law to criminalize freedom of expression. The law criminalizes independent reporting on opposition groups that the government has deemed terrorists.

"We condemn the convictions of Eskinder Nega and five other journalists who exercised their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "With its ruling, the court has effectively criminalized free expression, trivialized the genuine threat of terrorism, and undermined the credibility of the judicial system in Ethiopia."

Local journalists told CPJ that the judicial process was marred by due process violations. The court did not accept any evidence or witness statements from Eskinder's defense, and the blogger was charged without his lawyer present, the journalists said. In addition, public statements by government officials and news reports by state-controlled media contributed to a country-wide smear campaign launched by the government against the journalists, according to CPJ research.

This conviction marks the third terrorism verdict against journalists in the past six months. Three journalists were convicted in January on charges of terrorism, according to CPJ research. Two of the journalists were given prison terms and the third, an exiled reporter, was given a life sentence. In December, two Swedish journalists were convicted of terrorism and each given 11-year prison terms, CPJ research shows.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Ethiopian law criminalises Skype, installs Internet filters

Africa Review

The Ethiopian government has passed new legislation that criminalises the use of Internet-based voice communications such as Skype and other forms of Internet phone calling.

Authorities have also installed a new filtering system that monitors the use of the Internet in the tightly-controlled Horn of Africa country in a move seen as targeting dissidents.

The telecoms law strictly prohibits VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which includes audio and video related social media communication, and the transfer of information packages through the fast growing global cyber networks.

It also authorises the government to inspect any imports of voice communication equipment and accessories, while also banning inbound shipments without prior permission.

Anyone involved in "illegal" phone calling services will be prosecuted and could be jailed for up to 15 years or fined heavily if found guilty.

Making an Internet phone call through different software is punishable by three to eight years-- automatically criminalising Skype and other similar voice services.

The government in the law's introductory annex defends such legislation as a timely and appropriate response to the ever increasing security threats globally and in Ethiopia.

But observers say the law is aimed at further limiting freedom of expression and the flow of information in the nation of 85 million people.

In the last five years websites and blogs critical of the government have been frequently blocked and all Amharic language broadcasts targeting Ethiopia jammed.

According to experts, traditional telecommunication, including GSM ( a form of mobile telephony network), can be easily wiretapped while this is not the case with most VoIP systems such as the popular Skype.

"VoIP differs from other forms of telecommunications with respect to confidentiality of the communication. This gives rise to a problem due to the existence of a constitutional right of anonymity and the protection of traffic data and content," Mr Alemayehu Fantaw, a Horn of Africa legal and crisis expert at New York City University, said.

Any attempt to ban social network media by a sub-Saharan Africa country including Ethiopia should be seen in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings in which such communication was vital in organising the protests, he added.

You can read the entire article here

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is the Specter of the Arab Spring Haunting Ethiopia?

Alemayehu Fentaw

Although Ethiopia has never been a breeding ground for Islamism, the government has started to interfere in religious affairs in order to preempt radicalization. This strategy will most likely backfire, sowing the very seeds of political Islam that it seeks to keep at bay.

To read the entire article on openDemocracy click here