Last week, EFF was dismayed to learn that Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega had been sentenced to eighteen years in prison under a sweeping and overbroad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. More than one hundred other Ethiopians, including nine journalists, have been sentenced under the vague law. In December 2011, two Swedish journalists were convicted on charges of supporting terrorism. [...]
A Dangerous Precedent
Back in June, we highlighted Ethiopia's censorship and surveillance practices. from the blocking of websites to the Telecom Service Infringement Law that, in addition to protecting the state service provider from the competition of VOiP services, also aims to harshly punish citizens for using or having in their possession any telecommunications equipment without prior permission from the government.
The latest convictions demonstrate the Ethiopian government's determination to restrict freedom of expression and association. The use of anti-terrorism legislation to silence writers is a tactic seen elsewhere, including Turkey and Burundi, where just last month a journalist was sentenced to life under such legislation.
In Ethiopia's 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, terrorist acts are broadly defined by a person or group "intending to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause by coercing the government, intimidating the public or section of the public, or destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional or, economic or social institutions of the country" by a number of actions. Furthermore, and not unlike material support laws in the United States, the definition of "rendering support for terrorism" includes the act of providing a "skill, expertise or moral support or advice." "Encouragement for terrorism"—which includes the publication of statements "likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts"—is also prohibited. It is this section of the law that has been used most consistently against journalists.
When Counter-Terrorism Becomes Anti-Freedom
While Ethiopia has reason to be concerned about terrorism, it is abundantly clear at this point that the government is taking advantage of foreign support for its counterterrorism measures. The United States alone provided $847 million in assistance to Ethiopia in 2011, some of which went to fund non-lethal military training. Between 2002 and 2007, however, Ethiopia received nearly $20 million in military assistance from the U.S., which included arms aid. In addition to providing financial aid, the U.S. has been outwardly supportive of Ethiopia's counter-terrorism measures against al-Shabaab. [...]
It would appear that any efforts to "raise concerns" with the Ethiopian government fell on deaf ears. Sadly, the weak condemnation expressed in those previous cases is still more than has been expressed toward Nega. In 2011, following the conviction of the two Swedish journalists, Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner stated that the U.S. "[recognizes] the authority of the judicial process in Ethiopia and [respects] the Ethiopian Government's legitimate concerns about terrorism" before noting that "a free press is an important element of democratic society."
Even the Department of State's comments on Nega's conviction do not go as far as condemnation, instead merely expressing "deep concern." ...
Full EFF article | July 20, 2012 | By Jillian C. York
Support Ethiopian Blogger Eskinder Nega
Individuals and organizations in the U.S. that wish to offer support for Eskinder Nega and freedom of expression in Ethiopia have several options. They can: