Is free speech under threat in Ethiopia?

There is increasing pressure on Ethiopia to review the conviction of several journalists and human rights activists in the country — a decision criticized in international circles as a violation of freedom of speech.

At least 20 Ethiopian journalists, human rights workers and bloggers were sentenced to prison in June under the country’s anti-terrorism law. Several foreign groups and officials have since slammed the decision and called for a review or revision of the broad legislation.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay joined these calls for review on July 18. She argued that the “overly broad definitions in the July 2009 anti-terrorism law of Ethiopia result in criminalizing the exercise of fundamental human rights.” The law, she said, has created a “climate of intimidation” in the country.

U.K. Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham and German human rights commissioner Markus Loening have expressed similar concerns about the potential effect of the sentencing and the law on civil society and speech freedom in Ethiopia.

U.S.-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has called on donors to condemn the verdict and demand legal reforms.

The United Nations, according to Pillay, is ready to help Ethiopia review the law.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.