Ethiopia has been in the international media spotlight since July 2011 for its harassment of journalists. Global Voices has written about Ethiopian netizens’ reactions to the trial of two Swedish journalists accused of terrorism; apparently it seems that Ethiopian government has significantly stepped up similar allegations on journalists, dissidents and senior opposition politicians since then.
The latest terrorism charges against 24 people, including senior opposition politicians and an outspoken online journalist, have received condemnation from Ethiopian bloggers, Facebook users and Twitter users. The Ethiopian blogosphere is awash with the derisive and informative messages for the plaintiff in Addis Ababa. Only eight of the defendants appeared in court to hear the charges, the rest will be tried in absentia.
Dear Prime Minister Ashebir Zenawi,
First of all, I would like to thank you profusely for including me in the latest roll call of patriots and freedom fighters. I am extremely humbled for the honor. Though I have not done enough to deserve one of your highest medals of good citizenship and patriotism, I assure you that the honor will inspire me to do even more to accomplish what is expected of me more effectively and efficiently.
I must also thank you for the free global promotion you have given me and others. I am pleased to report back to you that I have received not condolences, but numerous congratulatory messages from across the world.
Prime Minister Ashebir, I should, however, suggest that the list of honorees be expanded to include more deserving patriots and the criteria be more logical. People like me have not done enough to be in this prestigious roll call of freedom fighters.
No word sounds banal like the term “terrorist” or its noun variation “terrorism”. Terrorism is not an ideology, a conviction or a political program. It signifies sheer belief in brutalizing others; innocent others at that! It never flies for something substantive. That is why seasoned scholars, for instance, avoid hollow terms like “international terrorism” and resort to the reasons that invoke people to resort to such techniques like suicide bombing.
It is not strange to summarily dismiss political opponents in crimes of “treason” and ban them as out front “terrorists.” The Rivonia Trial is remembered for charging almost all senior ANC leaders as “terrorists” set for banishment at the Robben Islands. Margaret Thatcher once dubbed Nelson Mandela a dangerous “terrorist”. Madiba featured as one of America’s terrorists. His name was not scrapped from the terrorist list until very recently.
Only 8 of the 24 live in the country and hence are arrested. The remaining 16 were all outside the country. Plain Mathematics has it that the proportion of terrorists outside the country is DOUBLE the number of terrorists in the country! We have to take this data with a caution; the sampling error is not mentioned. Secondly, terrorism “infects” those who are prone to think out loud, write, blog, and debate about Ethiopian politics. This is more so for individuals who do not declare allegiance to any one single party; but could be journalists, students, civil society leaders etc. All of this is euphemism for terrorism…..
We now cry out loud! Long behold, “‘Terrorists’ of Ethiopia unite! You have nothing to lose but your terror!”
Endalk argues that the recent action against journalists and activists by the government is basically a problem of attitude. He fears that this will harshly affect the budding Ethiopian blogosphere and social media space:
Ethiopia’s problems in treating journalists and dissident opinion leaders are much deeper. They are basic attitudinal problems of government and they harshly will affect at least budding Ethiopian blogosphere and social media sphere. I have received a lot of advice not to write some critical issues about government on my blog. Some friends of mine even went on to fall out with me for fear of that similar cases could be implicated on me. They always wonder why I would play with fire. Considering Ethiopia’s behavior on journalists of the last five years at least they might appear reasonable as an atmosphere of fear go sky-high with each accusations and arrests. Since the disputed election of 2005 alone, the government retracted the accreditation of foreign correspondent journalists from Voice of America, Deutsche-Welle and others as part of an effort to obstruct attention garnered by foreign press though all of them regained their accreditation later. The government points finger at the journalists of filing biased reports on Ethiopia’s effort in building democracy and developmental endeavor. Besides many pro-government people give a piece of advice for dissident opinion leaders not to write critical issues as they believe critics would destroy Ethiopia’s good image on global media.
Scholar and journalist Abiye Teklemariam whose philosophical and critical Facebook status updates usually spark hundreds of comments and likes from his online friends also faced prosecution in absentia. Though the charge reads that Abiye is going to be prosecuted for his editorship of Addis Neger Online, it appears that Abiye's critical Facebook status updates added fuel to his plight:
For loving my country, for spending my waking hours thinking and talking about my country, for dreaming to see my country achieve its promise and potential, I am charged of terrorism by Meles Zenawi.
Kiflu Hussain another dissident and human right defender based in Kampala Uganda wrote:
I heard about the additional trumped up charge of terrorism against my compatriots, friends & comrades in absentia.As the editorial of Ginbot 7,an opposition party outlawed by the outlaw & hoodlum company of Meles Zenawi,said on its website sometime back, to be charged by Meles’s Kangaroo court on terrorism is the highest medal to be bestowed upon an Ethiopian patriot. So my friends; Mesfin Negash, Abiye Teklemariam, Zelele etc, I envy you so much. I wish Woyanne unwittingly honor me like you.
Another journalist facing government’s allegation is Mesfen Negash who already faced prosecution in 2008-09 before he left the country for Sweden. This time Mesfen is accused under the anti-terrorism law for being a member of a terrorist network and aiding and abetting a terrorist group. Mesfen was also not reticent about the allegation and he updated his Facebook status by saying:
Special Status Update:My official Status according to Meles Zenawi’s book is changed to “a wanted terrorist.” It’ll inspire us all; don’t expect us to give up!!!
The hearing of Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye's trial and other indicated journalists will continue next month.