Has Britain put liberty on trial by accusing a pro-democracy activist of terrorism?(By Zerihun Zelalem)

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On 5th July 2017, we read in the British Press that Dr. Taddesse Kersmo, a British national of Ethiopian dissident who was detained at Heathrow Airport on 4thJanuary 2017, upon his return to the UK from a trip to Eritrea, was charged with terrorism under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at Westminster Magistrate and later released on bail as he pleaded not-guilty to all charges. The Magistrate judge referred the case, which is the first in relation to an Ethiopian opposition member outside of the country, to be heard in a High Court at a later date.

This charge is different from your traditional terrorist charge which usually has an Islamic connection. The accused is Christian and is well known to the authorities in Britain for leading a secular organisation fighting for basic rights of citizens and respect for rule of law. The charges are brought under Article 58 of the contentious Terrorism Act of 2000 which is criticised by Liberty groups and has the power to make Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

Dr. Kersmo, a Christian, a scholar, researcher and passionate defender of human rights and a dedicated advocate for social justice, who genuinely believes only a democratic system, will bring peace and stability in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Dr Kersmo is a senior leader of Patriotic Ginbot 7 – Movement for Unity and Democracy in Ethiopia, a secular and liberal organisation set up to fight excessive political repression and injustice inflicted on Ethiopians by the ethnic and brutal regime in Ethiopia.

Dr. Kersmo, due to his well-known activism for the reign of human rights and democracy has made him a prime target of the Ethiopia regime.In 2014, Dr. Kersmo was the victim of a high-profile cyber-attack by the Ethiopian regime against Ethiopian exile community in the UK and in the US. The attack confirmed by Privacy International in collaboration with Citizen’s Lab was facilitated by the use of software developed and produced by the British-German company Gamma International British Government has ignored this blatant contravention of international law by a regime of different jurisdiction on a British national residing within the UK.

 Britain, a country built on the values of freedom, justice and rule of law is not only home to many refugees fleeing political persecutions from brutal regimes around the world but known to support freedom movements in the past and at present. The open support provided to oppositions to the Syrian and Iranian regimes are the most obvious examples today. There are hundreds of Ethiopians who have been granted political asylum in the United Kingdom for being politically persecuted by the regime in Ethiopia and affiliated members of Ginbot 7 which in 2015 became Patriotic Ginbot 7 following a coalition with another opposition group with a support base in northern part of Ethiopia. However, for a country with a declared foreign policy to promote respect for human rights, freedom and democracy, it is rather puzzling that the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) has decided to bring to court a case which is questionable from evidential or public interest tests point of view.

As a direct consequence of the political repression and marginalisation perused by the rulers of Ethiopia there are today a number of Ethiopian rebel organisations based in Eritrea with their senior leaders residing in the west, who are engaged in all forms or resistance against the regime in Ethiopia years before Ginbot 7 came in to the seen. However, it is rather curious why the CPS, and then the British Government decided to go after a senior leader of Patriotic Ginbot 7 and by implication against the organisation.

The glaring inconsistency between the declared foreign policy of the British Government and its disturbing collusion with the authoritarian regime of Ethiopia suggests that this is a politically motivated charge brought at of the behest the Ethiopian government bent on taking out those who oppose the regime and have the power to bring change not just at home but also living abroad. In doing so it appears that the British Government wilfully ignore that excessive political repression and complete erosion of constitutional rights and dignity of citizens are the primary reasons of opposition to the authoritarian regime in Ethiopia. This unprecedented cooperation of the British Government and its security apparatus with the Ethiopian authorities which has now been escalated to the level of using the legal system is also strengthening the suspicion about its role in the abduction and rendition of Andy Tsegie from Sanaa Airport while on route from Dubai to Eritrea on 23rdJune 2014.

Human rights organisations accuse the British government for writing an open cheque to the Ethiopian regime and underwriting repression.The UK Government is condemned for using taxpayers’ money to bolster the Ethiopian security forces responsible for the kidnap and imprisonment of opposition leaders outside the borders of Ethiopia.

Human rights group has been calling for greater scrutiny by Britain and other donors to ensure their money does not support state-sanctioned killings and brutality, as there are growing evidence that thousands have faced repeated torture while unlawful state killings have been carried out in a ‘relentless crackdown on real or imagined dissent’.

The Ethiopian government on Friday 4 August 2017 lifted the 10 month state of emergency imposed in October 2016 after over a thousand innocent and unarmed citizens were killed in anti-government protests demanding wider political reform and end to political and economic marginalisation. The state of emergency is said to have further enshrined the repression that has contributed to the crisis in the first place.

 The regime in Ethiopian

 In the last 25 years Ethiopia has made significant gains in economic growth, infra-structure development, and achieved some of its millennium development goals.  However, the flip side of the so called success story is a country which is NOT at peace with itself like never before and has rapidly descended to a one party authoritarian state is at significant risk of political disintegration.  The absolute disregard and contempt of the ethno-centric regime in Ethiopia for human rights and human dignity has outraged the conscious of mankind.

These developments have not come by accident or happen overnight but are outcomes of conscious decisions of Ethiopia’s political rulers of the day over two and half decades.  Today, little remains of democracy in Ethiopia, especially since the enforcement of laws that, tighten control of civil society, suppress independent media, repress political opposition, and apply a deeply flawed anti-terrorism law designed to silence dissent.

The Foreign Office acknowledges that media freedom remains severely restricted in the country and that some journalists are among the political prisoners held by the state in gruelling conditions. Freedom House reports that Ethiopia is not free and is in a down ward trajectory where the recent state of emergency gave sweeping powers to the state and its security forces to crack down on freedoms of expression and association.

Highlighting gross violation of human rights committed by the Ethiopian Government on its people over the years, citizens the United States House of representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on 28th July 2017 voted to advance resolution HR128 offering a blueprint to create a government better designed to serve the interests of the Ethiopian people.

 Despite this deplorable record the west, particularly the UK continue to provide financial, political and diplomatic support to the regime in Ethiopia and is accused of underwriting repression. In a landmark case, the UK Government was challenged in the High Court for financing a project which resulted in the displacement of indigenous communities from their ancestral land. I wonder why the UK is content to short change its fundamental values of liberty and democracy to protect a presumed short term political interest and partnership with an authoritarian regime delivering nothing but boat load of political refugees to British and Western taxpayers.

 A possible implication of the case                                                                  

 Ethiopia in the eyes of western governments may be seen as an economic power house showing strong economic growth rate and a stable country in a turbulent region. However, this narrative is in fact running out of steam and Ethiopia is sleep walking to utter instability and possible disintegration as the economic growth under fire is tailing-off and ethnic division is overtaking the supposed federalism.  Contrary to the view held among western governments that Ethiopia is a reliable partner to tackle security and stability problems of the region, a deeper analysis of the political role of the regime in Ethiopia in the region reveals that the regime has been partly responsible to the security and migration crisis that has engulfed the region.

A myopic view of the west and particularly Britain to support a brutal and dying regime standing on the wrong side of history for short term objectives leaves a sour test in the relation between the people of the two countries and reminiscent of the role Britain played in installing a minority regime in Ethiopia not to mention the influence of its colonial mess impacting on the peace of Ethiopian today. Considering the political and economic support the British Government has accorded apartheid South Africa and authoritarian regimes around the world, it is hardly surprising that they may see Ethiopia as their dictator as the former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called the Shah of Iran our dictator in the 1970s.

While it is worrying to learn that the Crown Prosecution Service, basically the Government of the United Kingdom – a country with proud history championing freedom and liberty, decided to bring such a case which tests the defensibility of a blanket application of the Act, the strength of the charge and the evidence, and the political motive behind the case; I have every confidence that the British justice system will defend liberty to the end and demonstrate that the state cannot dictate the outcome of a trial as in Ethiopia.

Moreover, this case could be an opportunity to lay bare in front of the Court and for the public to see the deplorable duplicity in the foreign policy of the UK and its inconsistent application of protection to different set of asylum seekers escaping political persecution from different parts of the world and its collusion with the brutal regime in Ethiopia.

On 7 August 2017 Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called  Mr Nicholas Mudros –  President of Venezuela “behaving like the dictator of an evil regime” following the death of 120 people during months of anti-government protest in Caracas.  While, it is totally unacceptable to see a single loss of life from a direct action of a government meant to protect and serve its people, the tragedy in Venezuela makes the massacre of over a thousand Ethiopians during the last 9 months alone by security forces, some of which have been trained by British aid and personnel, and the detention of tens of thousands in prisons also called death valleys for asking for their basic and constitutional rights; look like a child play.

On the other hand it was rather sad to observe Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson give a press interview at  the Conservative Conference 2016 unashamingly confirming that the Ethiopian Government formed by a ruling party led by the Tigrean People Liberation Front (TPLF) listed on the  Global Terrorism Database since 1980s, which claimed 100% of the parliamentary seats in two false national elections in a row (believe you me this is not North Korea or China but a strong partner of the UK)  is a democratic Government. This is a slap in the face of thousands of Ethiopians who has been lost their lives in the hand of this ethnic apartheid rule over the last 26 years, and the tens of thousands who have let their home in perilous circumstances in search of freedom. Human Rights and freedom of individuals are matters of principles and have no colour.

We fear that the current Foreign policy and position of the British Government towards Ethiopia, its desire to wilfully ignore atrocities committed by the brutal regime in Ethiopia, ready to be duped by a corrupt repressive regime, and instead go after for those who advocate for the freedom of a community shackled by excessive political repression; is expected to worsen the current global crisis of stability and migration.  A foreign policy which rejects the repression and marginalisation of nearly 100 million people and support respect for basic human and constitutional rights of citizens is the best guarantee of stability of Ethiopia and the region.