Climate of intimidation against rights defenders and journalists in Ethiopia – Pillay

GENEVA (18 July 2012) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday said she is seriously alarmed about the current climate of intimidation against human rights defenders and journalists in Ethiopia, resulting from the use of “overly broad” laws on terrorism and civil society registration.

“The recent sentencing of 20 Ethiopians, including prominent blogger Eskinder Nega, journalists and opposition figures, under the vague anti-terrorism law has brought into stark focus the precarious situation of journalists, human rights defenders and Government critics in the country,” Pillay said.

“The very harsh sentences handed down to journalists and other Government critics in recent months, coupled with excessive restrictions placed on human rights NGOs in the country have had the effect of stifling dissent and seriously undermining the freedom of opinion and expression in Ethiopia,” she added.

“The once vibrant civil society in Ethiopia has been whittled away as the space for them to operate freely has rapidly shrunk since the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation was passed into law,” the High Commissioner said. "The dramatic reduction in the number of organisations working on human rights issues, particularly on civil and political rights, is deeply disturbing."

Pillay said she echoed the “grave alarm” expressed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights about the arrest and prosecution of journalists and political opposition members under terrorism and treason charges for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association.*

“Laws to combat terrorism must be consistent with the Government’s human rights obligations under international conventions as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other regional instruments to which Ethiopia is party,” Pillay said. “The overly broad definitions in the July 2009 anti-terrorism law of Ethiopia result in criminalizing the exercise of fundamental human rights,” she said, adding she was also concerned about difficult conditions in pre-trial detention and due process in the conduct of the various trials.

“Taken together, such laws have created a climate of intimidation,” Pillay said. She also called on the Government to intensify efforts to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Pillay urged the Ethiopian Government to review its anti-terrorism and civil society legislation, as well as its interpretation and application by the courts, to ensure conformity with international human rights standards. She offered the services of the UN Human Rights office to work with the authorities on such a review.

ENDS

* At its 51st ordinary session (18 April - 2 May 2012), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on Ethiopia, stating it was “gravely alarmed by the arrest and prosecutions of journalists and political opposition members, charged with terrorism and other offences, including treason, for exercising their peaceful and legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.” The ACHPR resolution also condemned “the excessive restrictions placed on human rights work by the Charities and Societies Proclamation.”

UN Human Rights, country page – Ethiopia:
http://www.ohchr.org/en/countries/africaregion/pages/etindex.aspx

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