Our Voices

Journalist Zelalem Workagegnehu Found Guilty Under Anti-Terror Law

The Federal High Court Lideta 19 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, found blogger, journalist, and activist Zelalem Workagegnehu guilty under Article 7(1) of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation on April 15, 2016. Though Zelalem denied his affiliations with any political party and believed in non-violent change, his charges and conviction under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws are consistent with the Ethiopian government’s policy to target peaceful dissent or legitimate discussion of government policies.

Zelalem, a co-blogger of De Birhan Blog was initially detained in July 2014 and formally charged in October 2014 with multiple offenses under Article 7(1) of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation such as facilitating social media training, conspiring a violent revolution, publishing news reports on diaspora websites, and for receiving money from abroad to recruit members for the diaspora based opposition group Ginbot 7 – an organization that has been labeled as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government. While two of the charges were dropped by the Federal High Court, he was nevertheless found guilty of recruiting members for Ginbot 7 and for facilitating social media training. Though Zelalem’s sentencing decision will be decided on April 26, 2016, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation envisions punishment from 15 years to life.

Since the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have increasingly used the law as a tool of repression to target or stifle activists, journalists, bloggers, and opposition group leaders. Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is extremely broad and rests on vague definitions of terrorist activity. The definition of terrorism according to the proclamation includes many acts that do not involve violence or injury to people. As such, the law has stifled legitimate discussion and grievances in contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law – including, but not limited to, the exercise rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.