The Ethiopian government has stepped up its accusations against opposition journalists and politicians in recent weeks with official charges against 24 people, six of whom are journalists, under its strict anti-terrorist laws passed in June 2011. Eight of the accused, who have been held without bail since September, were in court at the mid-November hearing. The other 16 are already in exile and will be tried in absentia.
The accused are charged with belonging to Ginbot 7, which was labelled as a terrorist group, along with the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front by the government in June 2011. Two Swedish journalists are already in prison awaiting trial on charges linking them with the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
Ginbot 7 is headed by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in the 2005 elections but was never allowed to take up office. He subsequently fled to the US and founded Ginbot 7, whose stated aim is to overthrow the government of prime minister Meles Zenawi. In 2009 Nega was convicted in Addis Ababa of terrorist crimes and received the death sentence in absentia.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based group of foreign correspondents founded to protect journalists working under repressive regimes, Ethiopia now has the largest number of journalists driven into exile and is only second to Eritrea in Africa for the number it has imprisoned.
The Voice of America is reporting from Addis Ababa that since the 24 opponents of the Zenawi government were officially charged with terrorist-linked crimes in mid-November other Ethiopian journalists critical of the government have also left the country.
In a separate incident Slovakia has withdrawn its ambassador to Ethiopia on 10 November after he was detained for two days by police. So far there has been no explanation why the ambassador, Milan Dubcek, was held in custody, nor has he been charged with any crime.