New York, January 25, 2012–Jailed Ethiopian dissident blogger Eskinder Nega will stand trial in March for all of the terrorism accusations initially advanced by prosecutors, a federal high court judge ruled yesterday, local sources said. If convicted on all charges, he could face the death penalty.
Judge Endeshaw Adane of the third criminal bench of the Lideta Federal High Court in the capital Addis Ababa reviewed evidence presented by government prosecutors yesterday and confirmed all six charges against Eskinder. His trial will begin March 5.
Five other journalists, all in exile and to be tried in absentia, initially faced the same terrorism charges. At yesterday’s hearing, the judge confirmed all six charges for two of those accused and dismissed all but one charge against three others.
“This ruling is an affront to justice and underscores that these are politicized charges used by the government to intimidate journalists and chill news-gathering activities,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call for all terrorism charges to be dropped as they are baseless, and for Eskinder to be released immediately”
The two journalists besides Eskinder who still face all six charges are exiled editors of opposition broadcasters: Abebe Belew of the U.S.-based Internet radio Addis Dimts and Fasil Yenealem of the Netherlands-based ESAT, according to CPJ sources and news reports.
Three other exiled editors — Abebe Gellaw of the U.S.-based Addis Voice and Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam of U.S.-based Addis Neger Online — will be tried in absentia under a single terrorism charge each, according to local sources.
Ethiopia’s antiterrorism law criminalizes reporting or publication of information the government deems favorable to groups designated as terrorists, which include opposition movements such as Ginbot 7 and the separatists of the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The government’s application of the law against journalists and dissidents has been criticized by the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.
The charges against the journalists are based on accusations of “disseminating terrorist ideas” to Ethiopians such as through ESAT TV, radio, Internet and Web chat forums such as Paltalk. The Addis Neger Online editors are accused of “lending professional support for terrorism,” by “allowing terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front, and Ogaden National Liberation Front to express their terrorist ideas and promote their agendas on their online publication,” according to a translation of the original charge sheet.
Other charges are based on accusations of recruiting young people to membership of the groups designated as terrorist, and on treason and spying for Ethiopia’s arch foe, Eritrea.
Earlier this month, three other local journalists were convicted of terrorism charges — one in absentia — and they could face the death penalty, news reports said. Their sentencing is expected tomorrow. In addition, two Swedish journalists were sentenced in late December to 11-year jail terms after being convicted of supporting terrorism and entering Ethiopia illegally.
In Africa, only Eritrea jails more journalists than Ethiopia, according to CPJ research.