Ethiopia’s ruling coalition started talks with opposition groups on amending provisions of an anti-terrorism law critics say has criminalised dissent, state-affiliated media said.
Watchdog groups say the 2009 law’s broad definitions have been used indiscriminately against anyone who opposes government policy. Among its provisions, it makes anyone publishing information deemed to encourage terrorism liable to a jail term of up to 20 years.
The discussions follow the release of opposition leader Andargachew Tsige, sentenced to death under the law in 2009 for his role in the opposition group Ginbot 7, which government labelled a terrorist organisation.
Fana Broadcasting Corporation said 14 political parties, including the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, were taking part in talks having “agreed to amend” unspecified articles of the legislation.
Human Rights Watch previously said the law “grants authorities the power to prosecute journalists who publish articles about protest movements, armed opposition groups or any other individuals deemed as terrorist or anti-peace”.
Ethiopia released thousands of dissidents since January as part of reforms government pledged to undertake in the wake of violent unrest starting three years ago.
The protests were sparked by an urban development plan for Addis Ababa critics said would trigger land seizures in the surrounding Oromiya region, before broadening into rallies over political rights.
The unrest led to the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February. He was replaced by former army officer Abiy Ahmed, who pledged to push through reforms.
Andargachew’s Ginbot 7 is among five groups government blacklisted under the anti-terrorism legislation, along with secessionist groups Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front, as well as the militant Islamist al Qaeda and Somalia’s al Shabaab.
On Tuesday, the government pardoned Ginbot 7’s leader Berhanu Nega, previously sentenced to death.