Ethiopia is using controversial anti-terrorism legislation to “crush free speech” after the country’s high court convicted 24 journalists, opposition politicians, and other people under the auspices of the law, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
The New York-based rights organization contends that Ethiopia’s government needs to amend the law’s provisions, which are being used to crack down on expression and peaceful dissent. Meanwhile, politically motivated charges should be dropped against the defendants.
A prominent, award-winning journalist was convicted under the 2009 anti-terrorism law. “This case shows that Ethiopia’s government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism,” said Leslie Lefkow, who is a deputy head of the rights group’s Africa division.
“The use of draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of law,” she added.
Human Rights Watch said the most suspect provisions of the law were used in handing down the convictions Wednesday.
During his pretrial imprisonment, Nathnael Mekonnen, one of the defendants, was quoted by the rights organization as saying that he was tortured for 23 days, including being deprived of sleep, being beaten, forced to stand for hours, and having cold water repeatedly poured on him.
“Ethiopia’s international partners should immediately call for the release of the many journalists and opposition supporters unlawfully prosecuted, and for the revision of the law that put them behind bars,” Lefkow added.