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Ethiopia: Dictatorship is State Terrorism

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Terrorism by “Anti-terrorism Law”

Lately, Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia, has been rounding up dissidents, journalists, opposition party political leaders and members under a diktat known as “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009”. This diktat approved on a 286-91 vote of the rubberstamp parliament is so arbitrary and capricious that Human Rights Watch concluded “the law could provide a new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy.”

The “anti-terrorism law” is a masterpiece of ambiguity, unintelligibility, obscurity, superficiality, unclarity, uncertainty, inanity and vacuity. It defines “terrorism” with such vagueness and overbreadth that any act, speech, statement, and even thought, could be punished under its sweeping provisions. Anyone who commits a “terrorist act” with the aim of “advancing a political, religious or ideological cause” and intending to “influence the government”, “intimidate the public”, “destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social institutions of the country” could be condemned to long imprisonment or suffer the death penalty. Making or publishing statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” is a punishable offense under the “law”.

Anyone who provides “moral support or advice” or has any contact with an individual accused of a terrorist act is presumed to be a terrorist supporter. Anyone who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” is deemed a “terrorist”. Peaceful protesters who carry banners critical of the regime could be charged for “promotional statements encouraging” terrorist acts. Anyone who “disrupts any public service” is considered a “terrorist”; and workers who may legitimately grieve working conditions by work stoppages could be charged with “terrorism” for disruption.  Young demonstrators who break windows in a public building by throwing rocks could be jailed as “terrorists”  for “causuing serious damage to property.”  A person who “fails to immediately inform or give information or evidence to the police” on a neighbor, co-worker or others s/he may suspect of “terrorism” could face upto 10 years for failure to report.  Two or more persons who have contact with a “terror” suspect could be charged with conspiracy to commit “terrorism”.

The procedural due process rights (fair trial) of suspects and the accused guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution and  international human rights conventions are ignored, evaded, overlooked and disregarded by the “law”.  “The police may arrest without court warrant any person whom he reasonably suspects to have committed or is committing a terrorism”  and hold that person in incommunicado detention. The police can engage in random and “sudden search and seizure” of the person, place or personal effects of anyone suspected of  “terrorism”.  The police can “intercept, install or conduct surveillance on the telephone, fax, radio, internet, electronic, postal, and similar communications” of a person suspected of terrorism. The police can order “any government institution, official, bank, or a private organization or an individual” to turn over documents, evidence and information on a “terror” suspect.

A “terror” suspect can be held in custody without charge for up to “four months”. Any “evidence” presented by the regime’s prosecutor against a “terror” suspect in “court”  is admissible, including “confessions” (extracted by torture), “hearsay”, “indirect, digital and electronic evidences” and “intelligence reports even if the report does not disclose the source or the method it was gathered (including evidence obtained by torture). The  “law” presumes the “terror” suspect to be guilty and puts the burden of proof on the suspect/defendant in violation of the universal principle that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Such is the “anti-terrorism law” that was used to arrest and jail Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye,  Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, and Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye and thousands of others over the past few months and years. In any country where the rule of law prevails and an independent judiciary thrives, such a “law” would not pass the smell test let alone a constitutional one. But in a world of kangaroo courts, rubberstamp parliaments and halls of vengance and injustice, the diktat of one man is the law of the land. So, 2011 Ethiopia has become George Orwell’s 1984: Thinking is terrorism. Dissent is terrorism. Speaking truth to power is terrorism. Having a conscience is terrorism. Peaceful protest is terrorism. Refusing to sell out one’s soul is terrorism. Standing up for democracy and human rights is terrorism. Defending the rule of law is terrorism. Peaceful resistance of state terrorism is terrorism.

Dictatorship is State Terrorism

Zenawi’s “anti-terrorism” diktat is intended to muzzle journalists from criticizing, youths from peaceably demonstrating, opposition parties from political organizing, ordinary citizens from speaking, civic leaders from mobilizing, teachers from imparting knowledge, lawyers from advocating scholars from analyzing and the entire nation from questioning his dictatorial rule. It is a “law” singularly intended to criminalize speech, police thought, outlaw critical publications, intimidate hearts, crush spirits, terrorize minds and shred constitutional and internationally-guaranteed human rights. When the State uses the “law” to silence and violently stamp out dissent, jail and keep in solitary confinement dissenters, opposition leaders and members, suppress the press and arbitrarily arrest journalists, trash human rights with impunity, trample upon the rule of law and scoff at constitutional accountability, does it not become a terrorist state?

“Softness to traitors will destroy us all,” said Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind and architect of the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. Robespierre justified the use of terror by the state to crush all opposition and those he considered enemies of the state: “Are the enemies within not the allies of the enemies without? The assassins who tear our country apart, the intriguers who buy the consciences that hold the people’s mandate; the traitors who sell them; the mercenary pamphleteers hired to dishonor the people’s cause, to kill public virtue, to stir up the fire of civil discord, and to prepare political counterrevolution by moral counterrevolution-are all those men less guilty or less dangerous than the tyrants whom they serve?” asked Robespierre rhetorically as he rounded up tens of thousands of innocent French citizens for the guillotine.

Zenawi once provided a definitive answer to his “enemies within and without”: “If opposition groups resort to violence in an attempt to discredit the election, we will crush them with our full force; they will all vegetate like Birtukan (Midekssa) in jail forever.” He is always ready to crush, smash and thrash his opposition.  He  described the leaders of opposition political coalition that won the 2005 elections as a bunch of “insurrectionists” (euphemism for “terrorists”): “The CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) leaders are engaged in insurrection — that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law.” When 193 unarmed demonstrators were massacred and 763 grievously wounded by security officers, Zenawi shed crocodile tears but said they were all terrorists lobbing grenades:  “I regret the deaths but these were not normal demonstrations. You don’t see hand grenades thrown at normal demonstrations.” His own handpicked Inquiry Commission contradicted him after a meticulous investigation: “There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade (as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs). The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protester.”

Zenawi has demonized opposition groups as “terrorists” bent on “creating a rift between the government and the people.” He has put on “trial” and sentenced to death various alleged “members” of the Ginbot 7 Movement, and contemptuously described that Movement as an organization of “amateur part-time terrorists”. He has undertaken a systematic campaign of intimidation against his critics describing them in his speeches as  “muckrakers,” “mud dwellers”, “sooty,” “sleazy,” “pompous egotists” and good-for-nothing “chaff” and “husk.” He even claimed the opposition was filthy and trying to  “dirty up the people like themselves.”

In the police state Ethiopia has become, opposition political and civic leaders and dissidents are kept under 24/7  surveillance, and the ordinary people they meet in the street are intimidated, harassed and persecuted. The climate of fear that permeates every aspect of urban and rural society is reinforced and maintained by a structure of repression that is vertically integrated from the very top to the local (kebele) level making impossible dissent or peaceful opposition political activity. As former president and presently opposition leader Dr. Negasso Gidada has documented, the structure of state terrorism in Ethiopia is so horrific one can only find parallels for it in Stalin-era Soviet Union:

The police and security offices and personnel collect information on each household through other means. One of these methods involves the use of organizations or structures called “shane”, which in Oromo means “the five”. Five households are grouped together under a leader who has the job of collecting information on the five households… The security chief passes the information he collected to his chief in the higher administrative organs in the Qabale, who in turn informs the Woreda police and security office. Each household is required to report on guests and visitors, the reasons for their visits, their length of stay, what they said and did and activities they engaged in. … The OPDO/EPRDF runs mass associations (women, youth and micro-credit groups) and party cells (“fathers”, “mothers” and “youth”). The party cells in the schools, health institutions and religious institutions also serve the same purpose….

State terrorism is the systematic use and threat of use of violence and coercion, intimidation, imprisonment and persecution  to create a prevailing climate of fear in a population with a specific political message and outcome: “Resistance is futile! Resistance will be crushed! There will be no resistance! ”  State terrorism paralyzes the whole society and incapacitates individuals by entrenching fear as a paramount feature of social inaction and immobilization through the exercise of  arbitrary power and extreme brutality. In Ethiopia today, it is not just that the climate of fear and loathing permeates every aspect of social and economic life, indeed the climate of fear has transformed the “Land of Thirteen Months of Sunshine” in to the “Land of Thirteen Months of Fear, Loathing, Despair and Darkness”.

Inspirational Thought from Nelson Mandela 

Africa’s greatest leader, Nelson Mandela, was jailed for 27 years as a “terrorist” by the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1993, three years after he left the notorious Robben Island prison, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Those jailed as “terrorists” in Ethiopia should draw great comfort and inspiration from the words of the greatest African leader alive:

I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many      people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I   normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for   liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a   terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who   said I was one.

We should all express our admiration, gratitude and appreciation for today’s “terrorists” and tomorrow’s peacemakers, conciliators, hopegivers and nation-builders.

Free Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye, Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, Johan Persson, Martin Schibbye and thousands of other unknown and unnamed Ethiopian political prisoners.

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and


11 thoughts on “Ethiopia: Dictatorship is State Terrorism

  1. Dear Alemayehu G. Mariam
    I can see you are heavily misinformed about the reality in Ethiopia and the actions taken by the government. Please contact the Prime Minster’s office so we can provide you with the correct information about the political climate in Ethiopia.

  2. #1
    Very recently, there was a symposium held in a European city about land grabbing in Ethiopia. Everyone was invited including officials and representatives of Woyane’s regime who are at the Ethiopian Embassy. They initially accepted the invitation weeks earlier before the meeting was held. They however, declined and called off their participations one day before the conference. The organizers asked the Embassy why they cancelled their participations at the last minute. The short and snappy answer of woyane’s guru was, as long as there are opposition participants at the symposium that they will not be there.
    I do not want to mention the name of the city not to endanger the people who informed us about the occurrence since they are employees of the Embassy with their luggages packed to desert the woyane terror regime as soon as they have the chance to do so. We asked these informants why the Embassy representatives backed off at the last minute. Their answer was that they do not have the moral righteousness and enough arguments to deny the facts that are existing and is well known all over the world except the petty woyanes and their blind supporters. Other than that, why should we disgrace ourselves for matters and facts that we, as individuals do not believe in?
    They also told us that they are waiting for the right moment to desert the Woyane embassy anyway. Moreover, the non-woyane employees added that in every embassy most of us are there as symbolical and cover curtains or as cannon fodder in controversial situations like the symposium, which they wanted us at first to go which we declined. In reality, the woyane cadres are the ones who are doing all or most of the important decisions behind the scene. One of them said look even the so-called Ambassadors have not very much to say than the woyane cadres. They said they feel in their own embassy as aliens, foreign, outlandish and as if they are puppets of those arrogant mannerless and narrow-minded woyane vagabonds.
    Well dear melles if your comment is not meant as comic ironic then that is what many of us Ethiopians want to see that woyanes be as transparent and open as any normal state could be in all direction. I.e. without demagogy, lies, threats, and all those negative properties that hey unfortunately characterizes woyane politics.
    Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. Specially we the youth need all those who are like the Prof. to share your experiences and know how. To agree or disagree is another thing main thing is we need info’s that gives us points to discuss about to broaden our own view. Thanks again and we hope that the disgusting and a under the belt campaign going on in some of the web portals against your person from the sides of some woyane vagabonds wont’ discourage you. Do not forget that we are also there and we are in the majority, we are organized and appreciate your opinion and comments, which we always wait with great yearning.
    Democracy will prevail in our Ethiopia!

  3. This man is the pride of Oromiya. He is well informed about everything that has been happening in Oromiya. I will fight for his nomination for the justice minister position when my Oromiya becomes independent in very few years. His name will be inscribed in the history of my beloved Oromiya people for ever. He has correctly discovered a well thought out methodology on how to peacefully neutralize the children of neftegnas who are running around among the Diaspora. We Oromos should be very proud to have him among us as part of our foreign mission.

    I bow to you our son Al.

  4. Dear Proff Al Mariam,
    Thank you for your tireless work to expose the crimes of the minority mafia rules of the Woyane junta in Ethiopia. However, what do you expect from a minority regime who wants to stay in power by whatever means it can? Like the minority Alwalites ruling mafias of Syria and the minority Sunny royal dynasty of Bahrain, the Woyanes control everything in Ethiopia. Once ruthless minorities come to power, they don’t easily relinquish it. We have seen minority rulers in the apartied era S Africa.
    The only solution is to rise up against these corrupt minorities wherever they are.
    Vitctory shall come for the People Ethipia.

  5. Professor Al Mariam,
    What is wrong with you? You said “Such is the “anti-terrorism law” that was used to arrest and jail Eskinder Nega, Debebe Eshetu, Andualem Aragie, Woubshet Taye, Zemenu Molla, Nathnael Makonnen, Asaminaw Birhanu, and Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye and thousands of others over the past few months and years.” I’m not talking here about the Ethiopian defendants as I don’t really know what they have done. However, the two Swedish “journalists” were captured during a fight between the Ethiopian Defence Forces and your bed fellows ONLF. Now, tell your audience if these two foreigners didn’t break the law of the country? Besides, regardless of their profession and intention, they were caught red-handed conspiring against Ethiopia.
    I believe, nowadays, you lost your mind. What kind of law did you study? Who told you poor country like Ethiopia doesn’t need to bring offenders regardless of their origin?
    Very useless professor in deed.
    Stop dumping your trash here.

  6. Dear Professor:

    To all laymen in regards to law matters like me it is always very helpful if you write down an example part of this proclamation in its entirety and explain how it can be used to silence innocent critics. I profusely thank Mr. Elias for including a link to the proclamation. I read through the proclamation and found some part than be harmful to innocent individuals but could not think of alternative ways. I am not a supporter of methods like ‘water-boarding’ but I don’t stand on a way of psychological pressure forcing terrorists reveal evidence or fresh leads. Considering the location of our country with a mother of all chaos just next door, how do you guard yourself from ‘potential’ wanton mayhem? Such mayhem may not be limited to warring words but can lead to a mother of all bloodbaths. I am not a fan of this autocratic man from Aduwa and believe that he has done some irreversible harm to the people and the country. But I am always worried that the country can descend into utter chaos and mindless killings. So can you or someone take an example part of this law and take it apart to show it fails the test of fair and right judicial system? This will help sustain the strength of the genuine opposition abroad. It is in a state of despair and weakened assertiveness. I think there should be a new campaign of educating the Diaspora with layman presentations by gifted individuals like Professor Alemayehu. I was out there the other day with the peaceful demonstrators in front of the State Department. Experts like this professor must devise a new methodology how to educate public because such crowds need to swell more in size. I had attended quite a few seminars (discussion forums) about the affairs of our country. I had found a lot of them very educational and very easy to grasp but honestly speaking I did not get what some experts were talking about in their presentation. I think such changes will help.

    This is just an honest-God suggestion.

  7. Thank you, Professor Al Mariam. You have done it again. The Woyane/TPLF/EPRDF mafia has never been a government that abides by the rule of law or constitution of any kind. After twenty years, it still is a terrorist group terrorizing Ethiopians from east to west and north to south. It took state power through terrorism and still rules through the use of violence, coercion, intimidation, harassment, fear, imprisonment, persecution, and murder. Woyane/TPLF, from its very first inception was started by terrorizing Tigreans in Western Tigray. It is a complete irony that the terrorist activities mentioned in its current anti-terrorism law are exactly what it did in Tigray before early 90s’. Unfortunately, its spy agency, police, and party members are performing the same terror activities throughout Ethiopia in the last twenty years. Indeed, Woyane/TPLF was, is, and will remain a terrorist group until Ethiopians say no and remove it from their daily life.

  8. #6 Nahome:

    It is better you go to school than waste your time to spit your venom (ignorance) here. Don’t think people are dump like you. We know better than you about the reality in our country.

  9. A terror suspect can be held in custody without charge for up to four months

    For a government of rebels for rebels, Rubber Stamping, Automatic Piloting, Cutting & Pasting, and a convinient provision as big as War on Terror, come with the teritory; it is given. The Dark & Cursed Era* is full of those and others.

    በጋዜጠኝነት ስራ የተሰማራችሁ
    ቦታችሁን ቀይሩ ተብላችሗል::

    Decades old prophecy regarding the journalists of Ethiopia.

    * Grang; Yodit; Mengistu; Meles….

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