URJY, June 29, 2012
An Ethiopia court has convicted on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, 24 people, including the prominent journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, of terrorism after finding them guilty of having links with a US-based opposition group designated by the ruling TPLF/EPRDF party as a terrorist organization.
Only eight defendants, including Iskinder Nega and Andualem Arage, were present in court when the verdict was announced. The remaining 16 defendants were convicted in absentia. The 24 men were accused of several offenses, including conspiring to dismantle the constitutional order, encouraging terrorism and high treason, charges that carry maximum punishment including death penalty according to the law. Nevertheless, prosecutors demanded life imprisonments for each of the defendants. They are expected to be sentenced next month. The defendants were convicted under a 2009 terrorism law, which human rights groups have consistently criticized for being too far-reaching.
Mr. Iskinder Nega was arrested last September for publishing an article questioning arrests made under the anti-terrorism law, particularity that of an Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu. He was also accused of inciting violence by writing about a possible popular unrest in Ethiopia like the Arab Spring and of supporting a US-based opposition party called Ginbot Seven, which the government has designated as a terrorist group. This is not the first time for Iskinder to be charged, convicted, and punished in the same way. He has previously spent years in different Ethioopian jails including Kaliti.
Incidentally, two Ethiopian journalists were sentenced to 14 years in prison in January on similar charges. Previously, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison in December. All of them were accused of having links with the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Like Ginbot Seven, the Ethiopian government has designated the ONLF also as a terrorist organization. The ONLF has been fighting the Ethiopian government for securing greater independence for the Ogaden region bordering Somalia.