Ethiopia PM May Pardon Politicians, Journalists, If Jailed ‘Admit Guilt’

February 8th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced Wednesday that he may pardon journalists, politicians and dissidents detained under an 2009 anti-terrorism law, while still denying that the arrests were politically motivated.

Rights groups have reported that more than 150 people, including 10 journalists, have been imprisoned under the “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation” since 2009. Human Rights Watch called the law “restrictive” in January 2012 report, and said it “has been used to justify arrests of both journalists and members of the political opposition.”

Zenawi denied the allegations, according to Reuters, which quoted him as telling Parliament: “All trials are transparent. All suspects are allowed access to lawyers and some have even been freed when no evidence was found to justify their arrests.”

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“But we would also consider granting clemency if culprits admit guilt and to making mistakes,” he added.

Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator at the Committee to Protest Journalists, views this statement with skepticism.

“This is exactly what the government wants,” Keita said. “It is a conditional pardon, and they can revoke it at any time.”

For Ethiopian nationals, this conditional clemency would constitute suspension of free speech and political activities. Since 2001, at least 79 Ethiopian journalists have fled the country, more than any other country in the world, according to CPJ.

Designated Terrorists

Under the Anti-Terror Proclamation, two armed groups — the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front — and one opposition party, Ginbot 7, have been labeled terrorist organizations.

HRW reported that in March 2011, authorities arrested more than 200 members and supporters of two registered opposition parties –the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement and the Oromo People’s Congress — publicly accusing them of involvement with the OLF.

“Those arbitrarily arrested and detained included former members of Parliament, long-serving party officials, and candidates in the 2010 regional and parliamentary elections,” reported HRW.

Among the 10 journalists in custody are two Swedish nationals, reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, who were given 11-year sentences, charged with aiding the ONLF and entering the country illegally. Schibbye and Persson admitted to illegally entering into Ethiopia’s Ogaden province through Somalia, but said it was to investigate the activities of an oil company that purchased licenses there in 2009 from Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum.

“The harsh sentences against Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye are an affront to justice and press freedom,” said Keita in a CPJ statement. “With this politicized case, authorities showed they are intent on quashing coverage of important events in the Ogaden region. The Ethiopian government should unconditionally release Persson and Schibbye, and allow independent access to the Ogaden region.”

Despite the mounting international criticism over Zenawi’s application of the anti-terror law, many foreign governments have yet to speak out, including the U.S., which declares Ethiopia “an important regional security partner of the United States” on the State Department’s Web site.

“From the U.S. point of view,” said Keita. “The security issue trumps the human rights issue.”

  1. Anonymous
    | #1

    words can’t express my anger and frustration not to mention cursing words floating through my mind. The lives of Ethiopia’s true children hanging in the balance at the mercy of one sick individual nauseates me to the point of throwing up. Midget Zenawi is not pardoning anyone because suddenly he has become compassionate or has a forgiving bleeding heart. It is because of pressure thrown at him from all corners for his stupid interpretation of ‘terrorism’ which he uses to muffle the opposition. It is sad to witness heroes like Eskinder Nega subjected to torture and humiliation because they dared to speak up against injustice. Birtukan and Debebe Eshetu need to lay everything(details) on the table, particularly the type of torture and humiliation they had to endure during their incarceration.We need a witness account of Birtukan’s and Debebe’s caliber in order to bolster incidents of torture by present day detainees inside Melese’s torture chamber. It is my hope the content of Birtukan’s upcoming book will bring Midget Zenawi to his knees. Death is the greatest equalizer of all whether one is a tyrant or a poor farmer in Gambela.Someone has to cut the midgets life short. There is no other way.


  2. oi
    | #2

    zenawi, out of compassion releasing prisoners that he incarcerated as number 1 enemies is beggars belief.

    what kind of compassion can such a person who is uprooting poor, emaciated peasants from their land have.

    all the shananigan about court appearances of witnesses, appeals etc is a theatrical drama being played out by zenawi to camouflage his real nature and to mislead his aid donors and sponsors into thinking that there is a legal due process in ethiopia.


    the truth is zenawi is the one who decides that a certain journalist, member of the public or political party be killed or jailed or tortured.

    zenawi even administers what type of torture each prisoner receives.

  3. Abiy
    | #3

    “But we would also consider granting clemency if culprits admit guilt and to making mistakes,”

    False arest,ccondemenation with out evidence, and then to turn around and demand for an admision of wrong doing before the release of prisoners has been standard dogma of these murderous front for over thirty five years.Then TPLF used thismethod only for Tigrians the only difference now is Legese is appling this to the entire Ethiopians with the to ligitmatize his tyranical rule.Away with this unnecessary speculation;there is nothing good can come out of TPLF cabal.

    But I ask every one out there what ever happend to our zeal to free ourselves through civil dis obedience?.Perhaps among many possible reasons,one acceptable reason behind our being late for such undertaking is the situation in Syria to sget some form of resolve.If such consideration is not hobehind our delay ,there should not be other excuse as to why we are not revoting aginst the regime.I think we need to give great emphasis to this form of struggle.

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