Twenty Ethiopian bloggers, journalists and senior opposition politicians were sentenced Friday to terms ranging from eight years to life in prison on terrorism charges. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] criticized [press release] the sentences, arguing that the measures taken by the government are an attempt to suppress legitimate dissent. AI added that the trial violated international standards. Among the sentenced was blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega who was arrested last year for encouraging violence by posting numerous articles on the Internet. Nega, April's winner [press release] of the press freedom award from PEN America [advocacy website], was found guilty for his alleged link with US-based opposition group Ginbot Seven [advocacy website, in Amharic] which is considered a terrorist group in Ethiopia. He received a sentence [BBC report] of 18 years in prison. AI urged that government to release or retry the sentenced individuals:
All three men are prisoners of conscienceconvicted and imprisoned because of their legitimate and peaceful activities. They should be immediately and unconditionally released. The trial fell short of international standards of fair trial in a number of ways. The other five men also sentenced today should be retried or released. The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members.Five other journalists in exile were sentenced in absentia to between 15 years and life. All three opposition politicians including Andualem Arage, a member of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) [party website, in Amharic], Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige, who are out of country, were sentenced to life.
In June, the Ethiopian Federal High Court [official website, in Amharic] convicted [JURIST report] 24 journalists, political opposition leaders and others under the country's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text], according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. Ethiopia has faced consistent criticism since it passed [JURIST report] the anti-terrorism law in 2009. In January, the Ethiopian court convicted [JURIST report] three journalists, a political opposition leader and a politician's assistant for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism in violation of the controversial law. Human rights groups such as HRW have criticized the conviction and called the government to drop all charges. In December HRW stated [JURIST report] that the controversial law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." The statement came after two Swedish journalists were convicted [Bloomberg report] of supporting terrorism.