Ethiopia’s alarming use and abuse of its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation
The government of Ethiopia, using its legislative body, has adopted the much criticized Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, Proclamation No. 652/2009, in short ATP, on July 07, 2009. The proclamation came in to effect on August 28 of the same year.
Known as one of the most broadly interpreted anti-terror laws in the world, the ATP has since been used, and mostly abused, by the government of Ethiopia to quash dissenting voices including journalists and opposition party members.
Since 2009, for example, at least 18 journalists have been convicted of terrorism and sentenced from 10 years to life in prison. Countless numbers of opposition party members have also been charged with the ATP, including recent cases of high-profile opposition party members such as Bekele Gerba.
However, the biggest challenge is not tracing the much publicized high-profile cases of journalists and opposition party members who are charged with the ATP, but tracing the “faceless, nameless” hundreds of ordinary citizens who are facing terrorism charges but about whom little is known.
Currently, the trend of arbitrary detention of dissenters has seen an unprecedented increase, especially since the start in November 2015 of popular anti-government protests. With the resumption of courts after the summer recession, the number of individuals appearing in various benches of the Federal High Court charged with the ATP has shown an alarming surge.
Ethio-Trial Tracker Project
Ethio-Trial Tracker is, therefore, a project initiated by volunteer individuals and designed to bring light to the plight of these people, while at the same time serving as a device of enforcing checks and balances on Ethiopia’s use and abuse of the ATP.
This website is dedicated to present details of an independent and objective trial tracking process engaged in collecting data on individuals charged under Ethiopia’s ATP and are either in the past or currently appearing in a court of law.
The data collected on these individuals includes, but not necessarily limited to, names, basic personal information (such as age, marital status, and sex); original places where suspects come from and career/professional backgrounds where applicable; details of charges and updates on trials – such as appointment dates, status of court appearances and hearings such as details of defense statements and prosecutor’s evidences.
Results of the data collected are checked for accuracy and before being published on the website.
Scant data, collected unofficially by our volunteers, show that more than 1000 Ethiopians have so far been charged under the ATP since its enactment in 2009.
The exact number of individuals who are already sentenced to various terms in prison is not easy to come by, but from those whose data is available to the public (especially tried in the capital Addis Ababa), individuals include journalists, bloggers, students, opposition party members and leaders, teachers, religious leaders (mostly Muslims), and other civil servants.
Inadequate as it is, the information about the individuals who are already sentenced was made possible because, at some point or another, their cases have been covered by the media and rights organizations at different stages of the trials.
However, publicly available details on trials did not, in many cases, include crucial information on evidence presented against the accused and on the treatment of the accused while in custody, nor did the public have access to the full charges brought against defendants in these cases (in the original Amharic or translated into English) or at the very least summarized translations of these charges.
The lack of such basic and yet crucial information on the trials means the motive and results of the trials were vulnerable to speculative uses by advocates and the government thus hindering strong ATP-related engagement by rights organizations and other relevant actors.
The main objective of this website is therefore to provide concrete, unbiased and well-documented data on persons charged under the ATP, and by extension to serve as a means of enforcing checks and balances on the use by the government of Ethiopia of the ATP.
However, its objectives also extend to providing information to researchers, media organizations, rights activists, and advocates who want to use indisputable data about trials under the ATP.
1.1 Data compilation
In the last one year and three months, our volunteers have tried to collect basic data on cases mainly in and around Addis Ababa.
Accordingly, a team of individuals with formidable knowledge about Ethiopia’s legal terminologies have been involved in conducting the following activities in preparation for this data website:
- Visits to prison facilities in Addis Ababa and its surroundings and inquiry on the availability of individuals facing charges under the ATP
- Visits and inquiry at the Federal High Court Criminal Bench where individuals charged under the ATP are tried
- Collecting the basic information such as:
Names and other backgrounds, original places where suspects come from, court appearance dates and court progresses so far and other relevant information, such as the status of family members in charge of visits (where applicable), and pictures of suspects (where available)
- Collection of details of charges against individuals who are located and are identified
1.2 Data conversion
Our volunteers have then been carefully converting the materials collected into a readable material that is ready to upload on this dedicated website in a form of synopses.
- Ensuring accuracy of information
Each member of our volunteers was tasked with the responsibility of data verification, which requires access to court files, and locating of defense teams and family members of suspects before any given information is uploaded to this dedicated website.
- The availability of the website
This website is freely available to all interested individuals and organizations. Using social media, mainly Facebook, Twitter it will soon be expanding its availability.
4.1 Guiding principle
The guiding principle of the project will be to provide indisputable data on persons charged under the ATP and their trials. For the first six months, the project will focus on cases in and around Addis Ababa.
4.2 What this project IS NOT
This project is not an advocacy project!! The aim of the website is to provide objectively verifiable data on trials under the ATP. As such, the materials that are available on this website should not, in anyway, be viewed as providing subjective narratives or conducting activism work. The website works to provide all interested persons with better access to public documents, which charges under the ATP are.
4.3 What this project CAN DO
It will fill in the dire gap in information about the use of the ATP against individuals and will strive to put faces and names to the people who are subjected to the use of the ATP but are otherwise not known to the general public.
4.4 What this project CANNOT DO
Preclude in any way individuals such as researchers and media professionals as well as rights organizations from using the material provided in this website. However, if and when materials on this website are misused/misquoted by anyone and any organization, the project will strive to hold accountable individuals and organizations that have subjectively used its otherwise carefully compiled and rigorously scrutinized materials.