The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today described a ruling by the High Court in Addis Ababa which found guilty of terrorism journalist Eskinder Nega as a gross miscarriage of justice.
Delivering his decision, Judge Endeshaw Adane said that "Freedom of speech can be limited when it used to undermine security and not used for the public interest."
"Journalists the world over will be outraged at this ruling on terrorrism trumped-up charges against Eskinder Nega," said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Office Director. " This decision confirms that press freedom and freedom of expression remain as elusive as ever in Ethiopia and has made plain the authorities' agenda to suppress dissent as well as independent media."
Media reports say that Eskinder was convicted in a trial of 24 accused, including opposition politicians and journalists, who are suspected of membership of an opposition group based in the US which is considered a terrorist organisation under Ethiopian law. All of them were found guilty participation in a terrorist organization, planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of terrorist act. But, only eight of the accused were present at the trial, according to reports.
Although the terrorism charges carry a death sentence under the Ethiopian justice system, the prosecutor requested life imprisonment in this case and the judge will determine the sentence at a later stage. The accused are expected back in court on 13 July to enter any mitigating circumstances before sentencing.
Eskinder was arrested in September 2011 after publishing online articles on the likely impact of the popular uprising in the Arab World on Ethiopia. He also denounced the country's sweeping anti-terror legislation which led to the arrests and length prison terms to other journalists, including two Swedish reporters Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye who were jailed in December 2011 following their conviction of "supporting a terrorist organisation and illegally entering Ethiopia". He is among 11 journalists and bloggers who the government of Ethiopia has charged with terrorism since 2011.
The IFJ says that this case is further proof that the anti-terror legislation is being abused routinely by authoritarian regimes around the world, as part of their campaign to gag the independent press and intimidate critical reporting in their countries.
"These laws are becoming a tool of choice for governments which don't brook any criticism, however legitimate and deserved," added Baglo. "We stand by Eskinder and all other our colleagues who are victims of such a gross miscarriage of justice."