The Government of Ethiopia, after implementing a contentious law for almost a decade, has tabled a new draft bill to repeal the much maligned Anti-terrorism Proclamation before the House of People’s Representatives (HPR).
The newly proposed bill removes key provisions which were a point of contention among rights activists, who argue, they violated the basic human rights of individuals.
Nevertheless, the proposed bill has come-up with stricter provisions and even loftier punishments, both in prison terms and in financial penalty.
Tabled on Thursday, the bill consists of six parts with a total of 47 articles, and would be renamed as ‘A Proclamation to provide for Prevention and Suppression Terrorism Crimes,’ offering a broader amendment including numerous definitions and phrases.
Among the amendments made, the new bill redefines controversial terms including what terrorism is, terrorism organizations, and other key words which studies identified as ‘controversial and vague’ words which have been misinterpreted during the enforcement of the law.
According to the explanation documents attached with the draft bill, the draft proclamation has three key objectives and goals. The first one is to help put in place a legal framework that enables to prevent and suppress terrorism crimes, while the second is to bring terrorists before justice and punishing them to the extent of their crime accordingly. Similarly, the third objective or goal is to safeguard citizens’ human rights’ and democracy by insuring the peace and security of the people and the government.
Furthermore, the new draft imposes three levels of punishment. Accordingly, any terrorist or individuals found guilty will serve the proportional punishment of 10 to 18 years imprisonment (in the first category), 15 to 25 years imprisonment (in the second category) and 15 years to life imprisonment or a death sentence which is found in the third category. These significantly diverge from the existing law which puts punishment to be at 15 years to life imprisonment or a death sentence.
In addition, in what was considered as a terrorist act in the existing laws by going on strikes and the like; the new version proclaims strikes as a non-terrorist acts, going on to say, rather it is a Civil Rights.
Going further, the proposed draft bill grants regional courts to proceed with court trials in cases of terrorism charges, differing from what the existing law dictates. The previous version only allowed for the federal government to prosecute terrorism related cases. Other restrictive provisions which have been said to have negative impacts on the Media, Civil Society Organizations as well have been proposed to be amended.
Despite the legitimate grounds that Ethiopia needs to have the law to address terror related threats and crimes like any other countries; the anti-terrorism law of 2009 has been criticized widely and heavily by watchdogs and other international agencies since it came into being.
After deliberating on some of the proposed provisions, MPs referred the bill with a unanimous vote to the Legal, Justice and Administration Standing Committee for further revisions to be conducted jointly with the Foreign Affairs and Peace Standing Committee.