How Much Do You Know About (mis)use of Ethiopia’s Anti-terrorism Proclamation? (BefeQadu Z. Hailu)


Many often fail to imagine the subjective consequences of public actions. Here I want you to imagine personal crises with the numbers I will follow.

As a living victim of (mis)use of the Anti-terrorism Proclamation (ATP) in Ethiopia, I face a heartbreaking judgement oftentimes from ordinary citizens who knew that I was once charged of the ATP. They say, “you must have been involved in ‘something’ that got you suspected of terrorism”. I find it difficult to explain how the ATP became a tool to stifle dissent in the country. This, however, is not my personal problem, it is a challenge of many others; nor it is the only problem, there are a lot of sufferings it caused. Once someone is charged of Ethiopia’s ATP, her/his life will turn upside down. It is mostly difficult for ex-suspect/convict of the infamous ATP to get one’s job back nor to find a new one; the blank space in one’s CV sounds to employers like “don’t give them the job, otherwise you will draw government spies’ attention towards your company”. Past suspects/convicts of ATP will remain ‘usual suspect’ anytime anti-government protests erupt.

How many people were prosecuted of the ATP in Ethiopia? How many fled the country in fear of persecution? How many families suffered the consequences? A lot of individual stories have been reported about the ATP and its (mis)use but no significant research has been conducted uncovering the entire (mis)application of it. Who are the main targets of the ATP? How many people have so far suffered direct consequence of this – apparently – abusive Proclamation?

They say “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”; one of my co-defendants in the ATP charges pressed against us, Zelalem Kibret, used his experience in jail to study the (mis)use of the Proclamation and developed a research on the topic as a visiting scholar in New York university, later.

Zelalem explored the [mis]application of Ethiopia’s ATP under 123 cases which involved more than 985 defendants in a research titled as “The Terrorism of ‘Counterterrorism’: The Use and Abuse of Anti-Terrorism Law, the Case of Ethiopia”. (You can download it here: https://eujournal.org/index.php/…/article/viewFile/9348/8911) Zelalem begins by explaining the global definition gap to the term “terrorism” which gave the chance for States fill it in a definition they like; which, evidently, is helpful for their manipulation. This reminds me of Abraha, the current chairman of an opposition political party named Arena Tigray and was ex-defendant of a terrorism charge in Ethiopia. When he was asked if he pleaded guilty or not by the Federal High Court, he responded by defining the term terrorism in a very simplest and clear way. He said, “terrorism is harassing civilians to meet a political goal” and continued by saying, “accordingly, it is only the government in Ethiopia itself that is terrorizing civilians for control of political power, I’m not.” I needed to recall this definition of Abraha here because I want to tell readers of this note in advance that the objective of the writing (and reference of the study) isn’t condemning counter terrorism movement but the abuse in the name of it.

You Might “unknowingly” Become a Terrorist

Zelalem explores the cases at his hand and explains that “the ATP mainly raises rabble on two core notions, an overbroad substantive conception of terrorism and an overblown executive power camouflaged as enabling legal procedures.” Starting from the definition part, ATP defined “terrorism acts” without mentioning what “terrorism” is. The definition of “terrorism acts” in Ethiopia included “criminalization of the broadly listed acts like, rendering support to terrorism—knowingly or unknowingly—publications that rendered support to groups designated as terrorists—knowingly or unknowingly—individuals who knowingly and unknowingly omits to cooperation with the state in its effort of countering terrorism, and other unqualified and vaguely provided acts.”

Moreover, “the law stipulates overextended executive powers to the police, the intelligence and the public prosecutor is also a further criticism on the substance of the ATP.” This, added to the fact that all the security, intelligence and public prosecutor apparatuses of Ethiopia being entirely controlled in a single political group, made the result very abusive to all kinds of dissenting voices and movements.

The Numbers

Of the 123 cases that have 985 defendants under them that Zelalem’s research analyzed:
👉 96% of the ATP target individuals are Ethiopian citizens;
👉 81% charged individuals are accused ‘of relations’ with 5 of proscribed “terrorist” organizations;
👉 70%+ cases are pressed in relation to only either of the two groups: Ginbot 7 or OLF; 45% charged “for leading or abetting with Ginbot 7” and 28% charged for “leading or abetting with OLF”;
👉 ATP charges targeted legally registered political party members: among them AEUP, Blue Party, UDJ and OFC included
👉 10 (9 of them Ethiopian) not proscribed (as “terrorists”) groups mentioned in the charges constitute 20% of the cases; (these groups are: the Amhara Democratic Union Front, Benishangul People Liberation Movement, Ethiopian People Patriotic Front, Ferketul Linajiya Muslim Juma, Gambela Democratic Movement, Gambela People Liberation Movement, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Jum’atitu Muslim Jihadi, Khawarij, and Tigray People Democratic Movement.) [A committee of Muslims better identified as ‘Dimtsachin Yisema’ is also dubbed as a “terrorist” group by the plaintiff (Federal Public Prosecutor);]
👉 One third of the targeted individuals are journalists and bloggers, activists and political party members who have been peacefully and publicly working in the country;

Global Excuse for Rights Violations

The study explains that “it is universal phenomenon that in the name of countering terrorism states are seen compromising basic rights and liberties enshrined under their legal system” but the case of Ethiopia seems the worst. “The application of Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law”, writes Zelalem, “is an epitome of misusing counter terrorism as an excuse for violation of human and democratic rights as well as silencing dissidents…

“In Ethiopia, as [the] research finds, the state is targeting those individuals who should [are supposed to be] primary partners in the counterterrorism alliance—activists, writers, and revered political figures—by the law that is actually expected to countering terrorism. […] Generally, though the Ethiopian anti-terrorism law is a widely opened toolkit of abuse, but its implementation is far reaching to the extent of blurring the line between what is right and what is wrong. The super majority of the cases studied in [the] research are the glaring testimonies for this verdict. It is self-evident that a widely written law is prone to abuse, however when such laws met an abusive, readymade criminal justice system and exclusionary and hostile political environment, the impact of such laws will be devastative. Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law and its implementation is a prototype of such abusive instances that ultimately signifies as quintessential case for how not to counter terrorism.”

Zelalem disclaimed in his paper that the list is not exhaustive; sure it is not. An independent website that is crowding ‘terrorism’ related charges of Ethiopia, ethiotrialtracker.org, has also recently released a list of closed cases (download here: https://ethiotrialtracker.org/…/…/09/Closed-Defendants-1.pdf) involving 526 people and active cases (download here:https://ethiotrialtracker.org/…/…/09/Active-Defendants-1.pdf) of 879 people in PDF

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