Contextual Legal Analysis of Terrorism Prosecutions Involving Journalists and Politicians in Ethiopia

Author: Wondwossen Demissie Kassa

Kassa, Wondwossen Demissie, 2017 Contextual Legal Analysis of Terrorism Prosecutions Involving Journalists and Politicians in Ethiopia, Flinders University, Flinders Law School

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


In 2009, Ethiopia passed its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) citing Security Council Resolution 1373, the increasing terrorism threat, and inadequacy of existing laws as justifications. Counterterrorism prosecutions involving journalists and the opposition have increased following the promulgation of the ATP. This has prompted criticism against the Ethiopian government of misusing the ATP to stifle dissent. The government dismisses the criticism as lacking solid evidence and being based only on a superficial knowledge of the prosecutions. This thesis examines whether or not the prosecution of journalists and opposition politicians is attributable to their proven involvement in terrorism. Both doctrinal and empirical research methods have been used to address this issue.

The first two chapters provide background information in light of which both the promulgation of the ATP and subsequent counterterrorism prosecutions should be viewed. The first chapter deals with the distinct vulnerability of Africa to the misuse and abuse of counterterrorism. Through its description of Ethiopia as a country where there is a constitution without constitutionalism, the second chapter provides a broad politico-legal context of Ethiopia in particular.

The following two chapters focus on two aspects of the ATP: the definition of a terrorist act and its scope, and the incorporation of a precautionary standard. Chapter three identifies two guiding definitions in view of which the scope of the ATP’s definition can be examined. The first is the definition provided under the 1999 Organisation of African Convention on the Prevention and Combatting of Terrorism to which Ethiopia is a party. The second is inferred from the Security Council Resolution 1373. Reading the resolution between the lines and in conjunction with the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism with which the resolution is closely connected, and the Security Council’s post 2001 practices, it is inferred that the resolution tacitly endorses the definition that the Convention incorporates. Through an analysis of preparatory and status offences and associated human rights concerns, chapter four examines how the ATP accommodates the precautionary approach with counterterrorism.

The next part of the thesis analyses the application of the ATP by scrutinising two counterterrorism prosecutions, which involve journalists and leaders of lawfully registered political opposition parties. It draws mainly on analysis of criminal charge sheets, evidence of the parties, and court rulings and judgments. The accounts of court documents have been supplemented with semi-structured interviews with defence lawyers, prosecutors and judges involved in the cases along with those of political opposition leaders and journalists. The cases demonstrate the ramifications of a precautionary approach to counterterrorism in an authoritarian regime where the courts are not independent. They reveal a misapplication of the law and the court’s inconsistency and deviation from established rules, thereby contributing to an occurrence of miscarriage of justice.

Finally, the thesis revisits the official justifications for adopting the ATP and investigates their validity taking into consideration several factors including the findings from the analysis of the prosecutions. The appraisal suggests that the validity of these justifications is questionable and points to the ATP’s implicit purpose of disciplining dissenting views.

The research promises to be a valuable contribution to an understanding of the nature of counterterrorism in Ethiopia, about which little has been documented and even less that has relied on primary field research.

Keywords: Ethiopia, Terrorism Prosecution, Journalists, Politicians, Legal Analysis

Subject: Law thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: Flinders Law School
Supervisor: Professor Willem de Lint