By Peter Heinlein, VOA
A dissident Ethiopian journalist on trial for terrorism has categorically denied the charges and warned the court that history would judge its verdict.
A three-judge panel listened Wednesday as journalist Eskinder Nega described himself as a prisoner of conscience and rejected accusations that he had conspired to overthrow the government through violence.
Eskinder is one of 24 defendants, including opposition politicians and several exiled journalists, charged with supporting Ginbot Seven, a political party the government has labelled a terrorist group. Lawyers say they could face the death penalty if convicted.
In a 20-minute presentation, Eskinder challenged the prosecution’s case. He admitted writing and speaking about whether an Arab Spring-like movement might take root in Ethiopia, and calling for peaceful protests, but denied advocating violence or unconstitutional change.
Prominent opposition politician and co-defendant Andualem Aragie told the court earlier in the week that the government case was based on lies. The chief defense witness, former Ethiopian president Negasso Gidada, testified that the defendants had been working within the law in advocating for political change.
The prosecution had earlier presented scratchy, nearly inaudible recordings of telephone conversations and other comments as evidence that the defendants were plotting terrorist acts.
Human rights and press freedom groups have criticized Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, saying it violates the country’s constitution and inhibits political freedom.
Shortly before his arrest, Eskinder had written an online column blasting the law as an attempt to stifle dissent.
His wife Serkalem Fasil, who was jailed with him after the disputed 2005 elections, told VOA Wednesday Eskinder had been pleased with his defense but discouraged at having to battle against being labelled a terrorist.
She says Eskinder is angry at being accused of being a member of the Ginbot Seven party. She said, “He’s a journalist, not a member of a political party.”
Eskinder and Andualem were among 130 journalists and opposition political activists convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison following the 2005 elections. They were later pardoned.
They were re-arrested along with six others last September, soon after the 2009 anti-terrorism law became operational. Another 18 defendants identified as supporters of the Ginbot Seven party were charged in absentia. Most of them are political exiles in the United States.