Ethiopian PM death 'opportunity' for change: rights groups

AFP , Tuesday 21 Aug 2012

Prominent rights organizations criticize anti-terrorism legislation under Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi, encourage change in the coming period

The death of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, widely condemned for human rights violations during his two decades of rule, offers a fresh opportunity for change, human rights groups said Tuesday.

"The 21 years of Meles Zenawi's rule were characterised by ever-increasing repression and widespread human rights violations," Claire Beston, Amnesty International's Ethiopia researcher told AFP.

"The government and the next Prime Minister should take the opportunity for change represented by the succession of Meles Zenawi to move towards a greater respect for human rights," she added.

Meles' much criticised 2009 anti-terrorism law has seen multiple opposition figures and journalists, including two Swedes, jailed for lengthy terms, and should be overturned, said the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"Ethiopia's leadership should demonstrate its commitment to human rights reform by taking urgent steps to amend or repeal some of the most damaging legislation, including its anti-terrorism laws and restrictions on civil society," said Leslie Lefkow, HRW's deputy Africa director.

"It should release the scores of political prisoners who are unlawfully detained and make clear that the transition will result in a meaningful opening of political space."

Critics say the anti-terrorism law is too vague and has helped quash freedom of speech and peaceful political dissent.

"Freedom of information suffered many setbacks under Meles Zenawi," Reporters Without Borders told AFP.

"We hope the next prime minister will understand the need to release journalists who are being held unjustly, as their detention is seriously damaging Ethiopia's image."

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