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[Dehai-WN] Eurasiareview.com: Unlawful Imprisonment In Ethiopia: Intimidated, Tortured And Detained - OpEd

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 11 May 2012 20:55:33 +0200

Unlawful Imprisonment In Ethiopia: Intimidated, Tortured And Detained – OpEd

By: <http://www.eurasiareview.com/author/graham-peebles/> Graham Peebles

May 11, 2012

Arrested, jailed and beaten, tortured and imprisoned, this is the recipe for
justice that the Ethiopian government serves up to dissenting voices. Men
and women peacefully exercising their democratic right, demanding their
human rights, crying out for their moral rights. The victimised are not only
those living within Ethiopia who attempt to offer an alternative to the
current dictatorship, who form and organise political opposition to the
Meles regime, but journalists inside Ethiopia and abroad, who dare to speak
out in criticism of the governments criminality, human rights violations and
policies of indifference.

Amnesty International in its damning report of the Ethiopian government,
Dismantling Dissent in Ethiopia (DDE);1 state that from March to November
2011 “at least 108 opposition party members and six journalists have been
arrested for alleged involvement with various proscribed terrorist groups.”
By November they were all charged with crimes under the internationally
criticised Anti Terrorist Proclamation. In addition, Amnesty continues, “six
journalists two opposition party members and one human rights defender, all
living in exile, were charged in absentia.”

The ‘T’ word as former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, called
terrorism, is the umbrella term used by the Ethiopian government (amongst
others) to justify the unjust, the dishonest and the criminal. If there is a
terrorist organisation flourishing in Ethiopia, committing crimes against
humanity and violating the human rights of the people it is State terrorism
delivered by the EPRDF government, under the leadership of Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi, as this UN definition of terrorism makes clear. “Criminal acts
intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a
group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any
circumstance unjustifiable.”2 Fear of the government, fear of reprisal, of
violence and [false] imprisonment casts a deep shadow across the people of
Ethiopia, whose human rights are being ignored by the Meles regime, that
seized power twenty years ago and has brutalised and systematically
restricted the peoples freedom and human rights ever since.

Lawless lawmakers

In 2009 the Ethiopian government passed legislation on the highly
controversial Anti Terrorism Proclamation. Human Rights Watch (HRW)3 that
year looked closely at what was then the proposed law and amongst other
recommendations held high within their fury and despair, said, “if
implemented 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” and “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.”
Needles to say, the law was passed almost entirely as drafted, duly
implemented and has since been used solely to silence dissent. Amnesty in
its report found “the prolonged series of arrests and prosecutions indicates
a systematic use of the law and the pretext of counter-terrorism by the
Ethiopian government to silence people who criticise or question their
actions and policies, especially opposition politicians and the independent

It is the utilisation and enforcement of this unlawful law that is enabling
the Ethiopian government to quash opposition and free speech within the
country and intimidate those voices for fairness, justice and common sense
abroad. The legislation allows the government to ban free association and to
arrest and imprison anyone who has the courage to speak out against the
government and their many human rights violations. The police, who were
already commonly acting outside of the law, with little or no knowledge of
human rights, were given new and unlawful powers. HRW in its analysis
states, “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.” This
constitutional requirement as with many articles of decency and good
intention is dutifully ignored. Arrested under the Anti Terrorist
Proclamation individuals are held in confinement for weeks, sometimes months
without charge and denied legal support. Even before this draconian
legislation was enforced HRW states “Ethiopian police routinely detain
people without charge for months, and sometimes ignore judicial orders for

Five from many

In January five more innocent people were convicted in the Ethiopian Federal
High Court, of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and money laundering.
Evidence against the three journalists an opposition leader and a woman,
Hirut Kifle Woldeyesus, was made up primarily of online criticism of the
government and plans to stage peaceful political protest. None of which
constitute acts of terrorism. This is common as Amnesty found in the 114
cases they investigated in their detailed report, “much of the evidence
against those charged involves items that do not appear to amount to
terrorism or criminal wrongdoing. Rather many items of evidence cited appear
to be illustrations of individuals exercising their right to freedom of
expression, acting peacefully and legitimately.”

Two of the journalists tried in January were sentenced to 14 years
imprisonment while Elias Kifle (tried in absentia), editor of the web-based
journal Ethiopian Review, received his second life sentence [emphasis mine].
These cases are simply the most recent in a long line of miscarriages of
‘justice’, where the outlaw government has exercised an abuse of power and
in the name of justice imprisoned the innocent. A further 24 journalists and
opposition party members are awaiting trial, many of whom could face the
death penalty, for trumped up charges which amount to nothing more than
journalists exercising their constitutional and moral right to freedom of
speech. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret
Sekaggya stated in a meeting of UN human rights investigators in February
“journalists, bloggers and others advocating for increased respect for human
rights should not be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views
are not in alignment with those of the Government.”4 Indeed. Journalists
must be free to speak out against the government, to criticise policies of
persecution, to highlight the suffering of the people and to draw attention
to the multiple human rights abuses taking place within Ethiopia. UN Special
Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, “Journalists play a
crucial role in promoting accountability of public officials by
investigating and informing the public about human rights violations, they
should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their legitimate work,
let alone be severely punished.” However all those speaking out in anguish
and rage at the EPRDF’s criminality and repression are subject not simply to
‘pressure’, or ‘criminal proceedings’, but violent arrest, torture and false
imprisonment, or indeed death.

Free the innocent

These five innocent men and women, who were mistreated in custody, falsely
imprisoned and like others, including the celebrated writer Eskinder Nega
(imprisoned for life in September for writing an on-line blog), denied their
liberty, must be released immediately and an independent enquiry instigated
to investigate their cases, their treatment whilst in jail and their hollow
convictions. During their three-month imprisonment at the Maikelawi
detention center before the trial and in violation of Ethiopian and
international law, the defendants were denied access to legal counsel and
family members, and claim they were beaten and tortured. This is the
experience of a great many whilst held in Maikelawi, Amnesty reveals in its
report, “many of the [114] detainees were forced to sign confessions and to
acknowledge ownership or association by signing items of seemingly
incriminating evidence.” The Ethiopian courts have not investigated any of
these claims, they are it seems nothing more than servants of the
Government, and are as HRW states “complicit in this political witch hunt.”
This collusion of the courts contravenes the Ethiopian constitution that
states in Article 78/1. “An independent judiciary is established by this
Constitution. Article 79/1. “Judicial Powers, both at Federal and State
levels, are vested in the courts,” furthermore, 3. “Judges shall exercise
their functions in full independence and shall be directed solely by the
law.” The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers,
Gabriela Knaul “deplored the reported failure to ensure the defendants’
right to a fair trial.” Reports the UN News Centre.

The Ethiopian government cannot be believed or trusted; the international
bodies supporting the country should impose independent observers of the
judicial system. Amnesty International in its report calls “on the
representatives of the international community in Addis Ababa to take up the
role of monitoring trials.” This would be an important initial act in
placing the EPRDF under international scrutiny and accountability. It is
time the international community acting through the UN undertook its
responsibility and role as advocate for justice, self-determination, “the
suppression of acts of aggression” (article 1) and freedom for the people of
the world, in accordance with its charter.

A blind eye to torture

In addition to the suppression of free speech, the use of the death penalty
and withdrawing the legal right of presumption of innocence, torture is
allowed under the Anti Terrorism Proclamation and information gathered
whilst under such duress is admissible in court. HRW again, “The draft
Proclamation deems confessions admissible without a restriction on the use
of statements made under torture”. This is illegal under international law,
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment does not allow the use of any statements made in a
court of law, that where elicited under torture. The use of such information
is also prohibited under the Ethiopian Constitution. Article 19 states,
“Persons arrested shall not be compelled to make confessions or admissions
which could be used in evidence against them. Any evidence obtained under
coercion shall not be admissible.” The much-trumpeted constitution in
colours green red and yellow, no doubt framed and hung neatly upon a wall of
indifference and conceit, unenforced; it means little or nothing to the
people and even less to the EPRDF who ignore its charter.

Known unknowables

It is an acknowledged fact within the corridors of the UN and Ethiopia’s
donor countries that human rights abuses are occurring daily within the
country under the increasingly paranoid gaze of Prime Minister Meles and his
ministerial menagerie. How do we as a world community, responsible and alert
to the needs of our brothers and sisters, respond to such men, to such
injustice and tyranny? Fight fire with fire many would advocate and in the
face of such cruelty many of us would perhaps gladly fuel a furnace, however
as Mahatma Ghandi said “I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself
believe in it. I can teach you not to bow your heads before anyone even at
the cost of your life.” To be silent in the sight of injustice and
persecution is to allow tyrants like Meles to maintain their stranglehold
over the innocent. It is time intense political pressure from those
providing and delivering the much-needed financial and developmental aid,
was applied to put an end to the current regimes human rights violations and
abuse of the people, including freezing of personal assets and targeted
sanctions. The British government give 315 million a year to Ethiopia, a
spokesperson from The Department for International Development (DFID) told
the Guardian (3/02/2012) “The prime minister, the foreign secretary and the
secretary of state for international development have all raised concerns
with Prime Minister Meles over the recent arrests of opposition leaders and
journalists.”5 ‘Concern’ is all well and good, but all too easy for the
arrogant to shrug off, outrage and horror a more apt response from
Westminster and more in keeping with the offences being committed. Criticism
alone however will not bring change within the abysmal regime and justice to
the long-suffering people.

Repeal and release

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi presides over a brutal manipulative dictatorship
that restricts all freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom
of the media in Ethiopia. Peaceful dissent is met with violence and false
imprisonment. Intimidation and fear are the key tools in such repression,
this must end and we the international community must ensure it is so. The
Anti terrorist Proclamation is an unjust piece of legislation designed and
implemented by a corrupt and violent regime who are in breech of
international law and there own constitution. It must be repealed
immediately, the many innocent good men and women falsely imprisoned
released and those supporting Ethiopia through development aid should insist
on the implementation of these legitimate and morally right demands. Sit not
in silent appeasement, but raise your bowed heads and act.


2. 1994 United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International
Terrorism annex to UN General Assembly resolution 49/60 ,”Measures to
Eliminate International Terrorism”, of December 9, 1994, UN Doc. A/Res/60/49
3. Human Rights Watch Analysis of Ethiopias Draft Anti-Terrorist Law.
4. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41112&Cr=journalist&Cr1



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