Ethiopia jails journalists, activists on ′terror′ charges | News | DW | 13.07.2012
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Ethiopia jails journalists, activists on 'terror' charges

Ethiopia's high court has handed down jail sentences to 24 journalists and opposition activists under anti-terror legislation. Critics say it is part of a government strategy to silence voices of dissent in the country.

An Ethiopian court on Friday handed down prison sentences of between eight years and life to 24 journalists and activists under the country's 2009 anti-terrorism law.

Among those sentenced was the well-known blogger Eskinder Nga, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Andualem Arange, of the opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice.

Eskinder had been found guilty last month of working with a rebel group that is classified as a terrorist organization in Ethiopia.

"He has been working with the Ginbot 7 organization," the presiding judge said, noting that this had led the court to hand down a longer sentence than might otherwise have been the case.

International criticism

The sentence of Eskinder and the other journalists was swiftly condemned by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Eskinder and five other journalists were found guilty on "vague and politically motivated terrorism charges," the committee announced.

Andualem was found guilty of serving as "a leader or decision maker" of a terrorist organization.

While Eskinder and Andualem appeared in court, most of the others, who had fled the country prior to the hearing, were convicted in absentia.

Defense attorney Abebe Guta told reporters after the sentences were handed down that his clients had not received fair trials.

"In my personal opinion, we rebutted the prosecution's evidence beyond reasonable doubt," Gubta said. "I think it's been not reasonably considered."

The sentences were condemned by human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

"The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members," Claire Beston, an AI researcher specializing on Ethiopia said.

Ethiopia has jailed more than 30 people, including 11 journalists, since the anti-terrorism law was passed, according to figures compiled by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

pfd/mkg (AFP, dpa)