A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today spoke out against the ongoing use of anti-terrorism laws to curb freedom of expression in Ethiopia, where several journalists were recently given prison sentences under such legislation.
“Journalists play a crucial role in promoting accountability of public officials by investigating and informing the public about human rights violations,” said Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. “They should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their legitimate work, let alone be severely punished.”
A week ago, three journalists and two opposition politicians were given prison sentences ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws. This followed the sentencing of two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison in December, a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated.
Another 24 defendants are scheduled to appear in court next month, for various charges under the anti-terrorism law, several of whom may face the death sentence if convicted.
Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, said that “the anti-terrorism provisions should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter to internationally guaranteed human rights.”
The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, emphasized that “journalists, bloggers and others advocating for increased respect for human rights should not be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views are not in alignment with those of the Government.”
She voiced concern at the case of Eskinder Nega, a blogger and human rights defender who may face the death penalty if convicted. Mr. Nega has been advocating for reform on the issue of the right to assemble peacefully in public.
Similarly, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, cautioned against the ongoing campaign of harassment against associations expressing dissenting views, while Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, deplored the reported failure to ensure the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
The experts called on the Ethiopian Government to respect the concerned individuals’ fundamental rights, especially their right to a fair trial, and reiterated the need to apply anti-terrorism legislation cautiously and in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations.