Law school challenges Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism statute

Abubaker Ahmed Mohamed

ESAT News (March 3, 2017)

The Vanderbilt Law School’s International Law Practice Lab has submitted an amicus brief to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in a human rights case, Abubaker Ahmed Mohamed and 28 others v. the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the school announced in a press release.  

Abubakar Mohamed and 28 others were jailed by the Ethiopian regime for campaigning against government’s interference in their religious affairs.

The case, which is currently pending before the commission, challenges Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism statute, which has regularly been used to silence those critical of the government, including advocates, journalists, political opponents, and ethnic, religious and other minority leaders, according to the release.

It said the brief was prepared by Vanderbilt Practice Lab students under the supervision of Michael Newton, who teaches the practice lab, and British attorney Oliver Windridge, an expert in international criminal and human rights law, on behalf of Abubaker Ahmed Mohamed and 28 additional named plaintiffs, all Ethiopian citizens who participated or publicly supported a series of peaceful protests of government interference in the exercise of their Muslim faith.

The case challenges the plaintiffs’ arrests, detentions, ill-treatment and convictions under the law, which were in apparent retaliation for exercising their rights to freedom of religion, expression and assembly.

Ethiopia enacted its anti-terror statute, Proclamation 652/2009, in August 2009 with the stated intent of combating domestic terrorism.  

“In its amicus brief, the Practice Lab argues that the definition of terrorism in the law violates international law because it is overly broad and includes a huge array of offenses which do not rise to commonly accepted definitions of terrorism,” Newton said.

“The brief also argues that the definition is too ambiguous and fails to provide adequate notice of what acts will constitute an offense, and that it criminalizes constitutionally protected activities, such as the exercise of freedoms of religion, expression, association and assembly.”

Vanderbilt’s International Law Practice Lab provides expert international legal assistance and support to governments, non-governmental organizations, and international and multinational organizations.