A Federal High Court in Ethiopia on Tuesday (May 16) found an ex-opposition politician guilty of terrorism for social media posts he made back in 2015. He faces sentencing which is scheduled for May 22 and is likely to get between 10 to 20 years behind bars.
Yonatan Tesfaye, a former spokesperson for the Blue party, was arrested in December 2015 after his facebook posts were judged by the authorities to have helped ignite the Oromo protests which hit the country.
After his arrest, he was held incommunicado during the pre-trial period that spanned some five months. Eventually, in May 2016, he was charged with terrorism under the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation (ATP).
I think the government’s intent and what it seeks is this: to restrict others from speaking freely
According to Article 6 of the ATP, “Whosoever publishes or causes the publication of a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducements to them to the commission or preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism…” is subject to terrorism charges.
His posts averred that the government was forcibly cracking down on protests instead of using peaceful discussions but the trial judge ruled that his comments ‘‘exceeded freedom of expression.’‘ Yonatan has continually claimed innocence throughout the year-long trial.
The Addis Standard news portal reports that after the sentence is handed down, Yonatan’s lawyer is planning to appeal the verdict and to appeal for the charges to be reduced from terrorism to criminal charges.
“I think the government’s intent and what it seeks is this: to restrict others from speaking freely,” lawyer Shibiru Belete Birru told the AFP after the verdict.