US worried over Ethiopia terror convictions

2012-06-28 12:09
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Washington - The United States is "deeply concerned" about the conviction of prominent Ethiopian journalists and opposition members under the African ally's controversial anti-terrorism law.

"This practice raises serious questions and concerns about the intent of the law, and about the sanctity of Ethiopians' constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement late on Wednesday.

The State Department said it had urged Ethiopia, a military ally, to guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the media. US Ambassador Donald Booth attended Wednesday's trial.

The statement mentioned journalist Eskinder Nega, accused of having tried to destabilise the country by encouraging Arab Spring-style protests against the government.

He and 23 other Ethiopians, including prominent opposition member Andualem Arage, face life in prison after having been convicted on Wednesday on charges of terrorism that Amnesty International said were "trumped up".

Although under the anti-terrorism legislation, the defendants could face the death sentence, the prosecutor recommended life sentences for the 24, only eight of whom appeared in court.

Five of the defendants, including Eskinder and Andualem, will reappear in court on 13 July to present their mitigating circumstances.

Eskinder, who in May was honored with the "freedom to write" award by the US-based writers' freedoms watchdog PEN, was jailed in 2005 following national elections.

He nevertheless continued writing a blog and remained critical of the government.

Rights groups have said Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law is vaguely worded and often used to quash freedom of speech and peaceful political dissent.

Press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists also condemned Wednesday's conviction as "baseless and politically motivated". They say Ethiopia has one of the most restricted media in the world.

Read more on:    ethiopia  |  east africa

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