Addis Ababa — An Ethiopian court on Wednesday found 24 citizens, including a journalist and some members of political oppositions, guilty under the country's controversial 2009 terrorism law.
Among convicted were prominent journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, as well as Andualem Arage and Nathnael Mekonnen - both members of an opposition group, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ).
The defendants were accused of having ties with a banned exiled opposition movement, Ginbot 7. They were also charged of conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks, incite an "Arab Spring style" violence in collaboration with banned rebels. An accusation they deny.
Nega and seven other defendants were in court today while the rest including five journalists who are in exile were convicted in absentia.
The court will pass sentences on July 13 and prosecutors are requesting jail terms ranging from five years up to life behind bars.
International press and human right organizations have immediately condemned today's court ruling.
Press rights group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement accused the Ethiopian government of abusing the country's anti-terror laws to clampdown on critical and independent reporting.
"The charges against Eskinder are baseless and politically-motivated in reprisal for his writings" said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita adding that "His conviction reiterates that Ethiopia will not hesitate to punish a probing press by imprisoning journalists or pushing them into exile."
Human Rights Watch similarly condemned the convictions urging the Ethiopian government to immediately drop all politically motivated charges against the defendants.
The group stressed a need to amend what it said was "the law's most pernicious provisions" which are seen as the root cause to crush free of speech and peaceful dissent.
Eskinder who was honoured in May with PEN America's "Freedom to Write" award was arrested in September last year on alleged links to terrorist groups and conspiracy to dismantle constitutional orders by publishing a number of online articles that invite people to revolt.
The Advocacy group, Amnesty international today said "the evidence against Eskinder centers on his discussions on whether the Arab spring demonstrations could spread to Ethiopia".
The US-based Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) are blacklisted as terrorist entities by Addis Ababa.