Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega 'guilty of terror link'

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A court in Ethiopia has found prominent journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega guilty of violating controversial anti-terrorism legislation.

Eskinder and 23 others were accused of links with US-based opposition group Ginbot Seven, which Ethiopia considers a terrorist organisation.

The prosecutor has asked for life in prison, rather than the death penalty.

"This is a dark day for justice in Ethiopia," said Amnesty International's Claire Beston.

Last month, Eskinder was awarded the prestigious Pen America's "Freedom to Write" annual prize for his work.

Human rights groups have criticised Ethiopia's anti-terrorism legislation for being too far-reaching.

Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the case "shows that Ethiopia's government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism".

'Destabilise country'

The BBC's Anne Waithera in the capital, Addis Ababa, says only eight of the defendants, including Eskinder and opposition member Andualem Arage, were present in court.

After the verdict their lawyer told journalists: "My clients are not guilty. They're innocent."

Eskinder was arrested last September after publishing an article questioning arrests under the anti-terrorism legislation, especially that of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu.

"By using the freedom of speech recognised in the constitution these criminals have been trying to destabilise the country," AFP news agency quotes the prosecutor as saying.

Eskinder opened his first newspaper in 1993, and has been detained at least seven times by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Last week, an Ethiopian guard working for the UN was jailed for seven years for communicating with the banned Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

In December, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison for supporting the ONLF.

Both the ONLF, which has been fighting for greater independence in the Ogaden area that borders Somalia, and Ginbot Seven, have been designated as terrorist groups by the Ethiopian parliament.

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