Addis Ababa — Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is once again stirring debate in this Horn of Africa nation as lawyer Temam Ababulga challenges the 2009 law in the highly-publicised “Muslim terrorism” case.
Ethiopia’s Federal High Court will deliver the judgment in the case, where 29 Muslims were arrested in July on charges of terrorism, on Thursday Dec. 6.
Ethiopia has had Muslim demonstrations since the beginning of the year, as members of the religious community have protested against what they say is government interference in their religious affairs. Around one-third of the 84 million people in this predominantly Christian nation are Muslim.
The dispute reached a head in July when 29 leaders of the Muslim community were arrested during a meeting, and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Under the decree, peaceful protest and dissent can be considered terrorism, and critical reporting by the media is seen as encouraging terrorism.
“We believe that the proclamation is not constitutional,” Temam told IPS.
Human Rights Watch has also repeatedly criticised Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism decree. Leslie Lefkow, the rights watchdog’s Africa specialist, told IPS that there are a number of human rights concerns in the proclamation.
“The definition of ‘terrorist acts’ is so broad that it can be used to prosecute a wide range of conduct far beyond what can reasonably be considered terrorist activity, such as legitimate peaceful protest and dissent, and protected speech,” she said.
In addition to rights organisations, the United Nations and foreign governments have criticised the proclamation for its broad interpretations of terrorism. Almost 200 people were imprisoned under this proclamation in 2011 alone, mostly members of the opposition, journalists and activists.
Amnesty International’s Claire Beston agreed that the proclamation was unconstitutional. “The constitution guarantees the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association, including, explicitly, the right to peacefully protest. As the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation places restrictions on these rights, it does violate Ethiopia’s Constitution,” she told IPS.