A think tank says Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is used to stifle dissent

ESAT News (January 21, 2016)

The government of Ethiopia routinely uses its vague and overly broad anti-terrorism law to stifle freedom of expression and political opposition, the Oakland Institute, a policy think tank said in a report today.

“The flawed anti-terrorism law must be revised and its misuse by the government stopped,” the Institute recommended.

Ethiopia’s highly controversial anti-terrorism law, Proclamation No. 652/2009, 1 was enacted in 2009.

The report recalled that “in the course of deliberations over the law, some members of the Ethiopian parliament, as well as human rights organizations, journalists, and others, expressed grave concerns that the law contained an overly broad and vague definition of terrorism, gave the police and security services unprecedented new powers, usurped citizens’ constitutional rights, and shifted the burden of proof to the accused.”

“Those fears have proven to be well founded. During the six years since the enactment of the law, people from all walks of life have been found to be ‘terrorists’ or are awaiting trial as such. Political opponents of the administration have been kidnapped from other countries and brought to Ethiopia to stand trial under the law. Some have been charged with crimes for actions that took place before the law even took effect,”

“Many of those charged report having been tortured, and the so-called confessions that have been obtained as a result have been used against them at trial. In 2013, Human Rights Watch released the report ‘They Want a Confession’ detailing extensive evidence of torture and forced confessions in Ethiopia’s notorious Maekelawi prison. The report provides harrowing testimonies from thirty-five former detainees at Maekelawi prison (where most political prisoners are taken as they await trial) and their family members. Interrogations, isolation, arbitrary detention, dire conditions, and torture are common. The report describes detainees being tortured in order to force confessions, extract information, and obtain signatures on false documents. It notes that detainees are not always aware of what they are signing–either because documents are in Amharic, or because the detainees are not allowed to see the documents they are signing.

The Institute said in the report that, “moreover, both on its face and as applied, the law violates international human rights law, as well as modern criminal justice and due process standards. In short, the law is a tool of repression, designed and used by the Ethiopian government to stifle its critics and political opposition, and criminalize the robust discussion of matters of enormous public interest and importance.”