By Aaron Maasho
June 20,2013 (Reuters) – An Ethiopian opposition party called on Thursday for the government to scrap an anti-terrorism law it says is used to stifle dissent, threatening a repeat of protests that brought thousands onto the streets of Addis Ababa early this month.
The rally on June 2, organized by another opposition group, was the first large-scale protest in the Ethiopian capital since a disputed 2005 election ended in street violence that killed 200 people.
Opposition groups in the Horn of Africa country were vibrant until that vote but have since largely retreated from public view, the result, analysts say, of harassment by the authorities and divisions within their ranks.
They routinely accuse the government of intimidating and imprisoning their members and rigging elections against them. Ethiopia’s 547-seat legislature has only one opposition member.
The anti-terrorism law ratified in 2009 makes anyone caught publishing information that could induce readers into acts of terrorism liable to jail terms of 10 to 20 years. Opponents say it is used indiscriminately to target anyone who opposes government policy.
“We shall demand that the anti-terror law be abolished immediately. It contradicts the constitution and violates the rights of people,” Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party spokesman Daniel Tefera said at a news conference in Addis Ababa.
In a statement, UDJ said the government was doing too little to tackle unemployment and corruption and announced a campaign of nationwide debates and rallies.
“If there is no positive response from the ruling regime, we shall go to court with the millions of signatures in our hands,” it said.
More than 10 journalists have been charged under the anti-terrorism law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which says Ethiopia has the highest number of exiled journalists in the world.
The government dismisses the claims that it is cracking down on dissent and says the law is needed it its fight against separatist rebels and armed groups who it says are backed by arch-foe Eritrea.
Analysts say the opposition may have found renewed vigor since the death last year of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was praised abroad for delivering strong economic growth but criticized for keeping a tight grip on power for 21 years.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has for now shown no sign of a major shift in policy away from his predecessor.
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; editing by James Macharia and Tom Pfeiffer)