Ethiopian PM Defends Anti-Terror Law, Condemns Critics
Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa
. February 09, 2012
Ethiopia has launched a vigorous defense of an anti-terrorism law that has
been used to imprison journalists and opposition politicians. The law's
critics call it an effective tool for silencing dissent.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Wednesday lashed out at human rights and
press freedom groups that have criticized implementation of Ethiopia's
Answering questions on the floor of parliament, Mr. Meles accused Western
monitoring groups of harboring anti-Ethiopian biases that lead them to
conclude the law is being misused for political purposes.
He used as an example the case of two Swedish journalists who were arrested
in the company of rebels the government classifies as terrorists.
"The government gave a small statement that such people have been put [in]
prison," he said. "The next day the campaign was launched, 'Free press,
innocent people with no issue at all!' They just give pronouncements before
the case has gone to court, before evidence has been heard. The
pronouncement was there; the government is the criminal and the people are
An Ethiopian court later convicted the two Swedes of supporting terrorism
and sentenced them to 11 years in prison. Mr. Meles hinted that the pair
might be freed, saying, "We would consider clemency, if the culprits admit
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect
Journalists have been vocal critics of the anti-terrorism law. Amnesty
International says the statute has been used to jail more than 100
journalists and opposition politicians during the past year. Many have been
convicted and handed long prison terms.
Mr. Meles singled out Human Rights Watch for special criticism. He
suggested that the group is an agent of forces trying to weaken countries
that oppose Western ideology.
"A campaign has been launched against us," he said. "There's a reason behind
it. This institution is playing a role of [promoting] ideologies. This
organization and its friends' world view are playing a role to speak against
some countries, if they look to be on the road to success on an ideology
that is different from the current world view. So it's a campaign to
[bring]those of us to our knees that deviate from the current world view.
There's no connection with human rights."
The prime minister's comments were the latest jab in a verbal slugfest
between Ethiopia and several Western institutions.
The foreign ministry in Addis Ababa last week issued a sharp rebuttal to a
New York Times newspaper opinion piece alleging that the government is
becoming more repressive, and Mr. Meles increasingly tyrannical. In the
piece, columnist Nicholas Kristof defended the Swedish journalists, saying,
"their offense was courage" in sneaking into Ethiopia's insurgency-wracked
Ogaden region to investigate reports of human rights abuses.
A letter written to the editor of The New York Times by an Ethiopian embassy
official in Washington charged Kristof with trying to incite opposition to
the government. A foreign ministry statement said Ethiopia respects media
freedom and accused Kristof of getting his facts wrong.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says the Meles
government has driven more journalists into exile during the past 10 years
than any other country. CPJ Advocacy Coordinator for Africa Mohamed Keita
says the few remaining critical voices in the media are under attack.
"The state media is continuing its smear campaign against the last
independent current affairs newspaper, Fiteh," said Keita. "So the numbers
speak for themselves. Between 2001 and 2011, at least 79 Ethiopian
journalists were forced into exile because they were reporting or commenting
on the news, and their opinions and criticisms of the government was equated
to anti-state activities."
Ethiopian government spokesmen did not answer telephone calls seeking
comment. But in an interview with Bloomberg news, Communications Minister
Bereket Simon said Ethiopia differentiates between freedom of expression and
terrorism. Referring to criticism of the Swedish journalists' conviction,
Bereket said, "This is simply a very wrong defense of foreign journalists
who have been caught red-handed assisting terrorists."
A group of United Nations human rights experts joined the fray last week,
urging the Ethiopian government to ensure that the anti-terrorism
legislation is not abused.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret
Sekaggya voiced special concern about the case of Internet blogger and
political commentator Eskinder Nega. He faces a possible death penalty, if
convicted of violating the statute. Eskinder is on trial, accused of
plotting with members of an outlawed political party to commit terrorist
-to-Long-Prison-Terms-138214754.html> Map of Ethiopia
-to-Long-Prison-Terms-138214754.html> Ethiopia Sentences 3 Journalists to
Long Prison Terms
Internet blogger, two local newspaper journalists, two political activists
convicted of violating country's anti-terrorism law
o-Admit-Role-in-Ethnic-Killings-137447838.html> Ethiopian Regional Leader
said to Admit Role in Ethnic Killings
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Received on Thu Feb 09 2012 - 17:19:32 EST