The United Nations criticized the Ethiopian government’s use of an anti-terrorism law to curb freedom of expression by jailing opposition politicians and reporters critical of the state.
In December, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years each by an Ethiopian court for supporting terrorism after being captured with a banned rebel group. An exiled journalist, two writers, a politician and one other individual, all from Ethiopia, were given terms ranging from 14 years to life last week for plotting terror acts.
Journalists “should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their legitimate work, let alone be severely punished,” Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said in a statement posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Ethiopia holds journalists accountable when they commit crimes, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.
“Ethiopia clearly differentiates between freedom of expression and terrorism,” he said in a phone interview from the capital, Addis Ababa, today. “This is simply a very wrong defense of foreign journalists who have been caught red-handed when assisting terrorists.”
Ethiopia was the third-largest recipient of humanitarian aid in the world in 2009, receiving $3.8 billion, according to Global Humanitarian Assistance, the Wells, England-based research group. There are 26 UN agencies operating in Ethiopia, according to the Addis Ababa-based Development Assistance Group, which represents Ethiopia’s donors.
Next month, 24 people including government opponents, exiled journalists and dissident writer Eskinder Nega, begin their defense of charges of committing terror acts under the Horn of Africa nation’s 2009 law.
“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,” Margaret Sekaggya, who speaks for the UN on behalf of human rights defenders, said in the statement.
Critics are applying “double standards” as they do not claim freedom of expression is endangered when journalists are prosecuted in the West, according to Bereket.
Five human-rights groups, including London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch, said a court case today in Addis Ababa threatens the “last remaining human rights monitoring NGO in Ethiopia.” The Addis Ababa-based Human Rights Council is trying to get a decision to freeze its funding reversed, the group said yesterday.
In 2009, Ethiopia banned charities working on human rights from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad.