Ethiopian police detained five individuals, including two known opposition personalities, on Wednesday, Sep.14, according to a statement sent to the state-owned Ethiopian Television and Radio Agency(ERTA). ERTA reported:
The Federal Police and the National Intelligence and Security Service Anti-terror Joint Taskforce has arrested five persons whom it says are suspected of executing terrorist acts.
According to the Taskforce, the detainees are Andualem Arage, Zemenu Molla, Natnael Mekonnen, Asaminew Berhanu and Eskindir Nega.
The Taskforce stated that the suspects were operating under the guise of formally registered political organizations to execute their hidden terrorist agenda thereby posing threat to national security.
The Taskforce underlined the suspects were reported to have a strong contact with the terrorist group, Ginbot 7.
The Anti-terror Joint Taskforce noted that the suspects were receiving direct support from external forces that are working to turn the nation into a terror zone.
According to a statement the Taskforce sent to ERTA on Wednesday, evidences gathered so far on the suspects indicate that they were spying for those external anti-peace forces.
The circumstances of the detention was described, in a statement the Human Rights Watch(HRW) issued on Friday, as follows:
Security forces arrested Eskinder, who is well-known in Ethiopia for his critical commentary, on the afternoon of September 14, while picking up his child from school. Andualem, vice chairman of the opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) and executive committee member of Medrek, the largest opposition coalition, was arrested around the same time on his way to the UDJ offices. On September 8, the government also arrested the popular actor Eshetu for his alleged involvement in Ginbot 7, a banned opposition group.
The statement from HRW noted that ‘Debebe [Eshetu], Eskinder, and Andualem should be immediately released unless there is a credible basis for promptly charging them.’ However, the statement went to speculate political motives behind the detention. HRW claimed that:
The government crackdown appears to coincide with an expanded use of Ethiopia’s abusive anti-terrorism law, Human Rights Watch said. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation contains an overbroad and vague definition of terrorist acts and makes the publication of statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” punishable by imprisonment for 10 to 20 years. The government is exploiting the law’s overly broad language to accuse peaceful critics, journalists, and political opponents of encouraging terrorism.
Under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, suspects can be held in custody for up to four months without charge. This is contrary to the Ethiopian constitution, which provides that suspects in detention should be charged or released within 48 hours, and violates international due process standards. Human Rights Watch has long called for the anti-terrorism law to be amended to bring it into line with Ethiopia’s international obligations.
The arrests of Eskinder and Andualem may be related to their criticism of the anti-terrorism law, Human Rights Watch said. Both recently questioned the terrorism charges against other critics of the government. Eskinder published an article last week on the internet questioning the plausibility of journalists as terror suspects and denouncing Debebe’s arrest on terror charges. Andualem has spoken out at recent opposition party press conferences about terrorist charges against opposition parties.
“Criticizing the anti-terror law is not a crime, nor is commenting on the arrests of government critics,” said .[HRW official] Peligal “The Ethiopian government appears to be locking up anyone who speaks up for basic rights and greater freedom.”
On the same day, however, two government officials gave a press conference to dismiss similar allegations made by Medrek, an opposition coalition to which Andualem Arage’s belongs.
Federal Police Central Intelligence and Crime Intelligence Director, Assistant Commissioner, Demelash Gebremichael, claimed, during the press conference, that ‘police has adequate evidence against the terrorist suspects arrested this week’ underlining that ‘the arrests are not politically motivated.’ Demelash noted that
Police have adequate evidence against these terror suspects with close links to the terrorist group Ginbot 7….the suspects used their political membership as cover for their terrorism plots particularly with plans of acts of terror in the Ethiopian New Year.
Being a member of a political party does not exempt one from criminal liability and the evidence we will present to court during trial shows their involvement in terrorism.
The Ass. Commissioner also indicated that all searches ad detention were conducted with a court warrant and the five suspects were brought before court within 48-hours in accordance with Constitution.
Government Communication Affairs Office State Minister, Shimeles Kemal, on his part, said that ‘Over 90 political parties operate in the country and none of these political party members are being harassed or intimidated for their political outlook,” he said. “Such claims of arrests of individuals in the country because of political outlooks is baseless’.
Shimeles also criticized ‘some media reports suggesting that the arrest also targeted journalists’. He said:
There is no journalist arrested in connection with their day to day profession,….The only journalist detained is Woubshet Taye [Deputy Editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly Awramba Times] who is accused of terrorism plots on media infrastructures.
For all we know, Eskinder is not a journalist. No one knows for which media institution he works for.
Shimeles also claimed that the government was able to squash terrorism plots that could have caused severe havoc to life and property after the coming into effect of the Antiterrorism law. Apparently, reminded of the foiled plot to bomb the AU summit in Addis Ababa last January, an incident corroborated by a United Nations report.
Gnbot 7 is an organization, which advocates regime change through violence, founded by a United States resident Berhanu Nega (PhD). In 2009, Berhanu Nega masterminded a foiled plot to assassinate government officials, consequently he was sentenced to death in absentia, while Ginbot 7 was proscribed as a terrorist organization. Berhanu Nega officially works with the Eritrean Government and another home-grown terrorist group, OLF, the latter two were implicated in the UN report’s account of the plot to bomb AU Summit.
Andualem Arage, alongside Berhanu Nega, had been one of the leaders of an opposition political party that called for a street violence in Nov. 2005, when more than 150 people, including police officers, died. The two, together with dozens of their colleagues, were subsequently charged and convicted in an Ethiopian Court. However, they were released on June 2007 when the President of the Republic accepted their petition for pardon, in which they took responsibility for the loss of life and property.
Following that Berhanu Nega left to the US to form Ginbot 7, while Andualem Arage remained in the country and became vice chairman of the opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) and executive committee member of a major opposition coalition, Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Party, aka Medrek.
Eskinder Nega, likewise, had been arrested, convicted and pardoned in connection with the 2005 post-election violence. The criminal conviction included his publishing license by he worked in the print media for several years prior to 2005. As a result, his application for a new license was denied by the broadcasting agency in 2007. However, Eskider maintained a media presence by writing opinion pieces to Ethiopian websites based in the US. Eskinder Nega also doubled as vice Chairman of the All Amahara Peoples’ Organization (AAPO) until 2004. The AAPO led by Eskinder was a hardliner group that remained behind when the majority of AAPO members, led by Eng. Hailu Shawel, decided to rename the party All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP).
Update: Some sources claim that in the 2005-2007 trial, the court acquitted Eskinder, while convicting the publishing house owned by him.
[Stay tuned for more details and analyses on the news]