Director Public Prosecution
Crown Prosecution Service
Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge
Dear Alison Saunders,
Ethiopian Advocacy Network, a grass roots organization committed to promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law, is deeply concerned and disturbed by the news that Dr. Tadesse Biru Kersmo, a well-known dissident and pro-democracy activist was briefly detained by UK authorities on terrorism charges and later released on bail pending appearance in court. Dr. Kersmo is a permanent resident of UK and has been living in London with his British wife for quite sometime now. The case against Dr. Kersmo is based solely on circumstantial evidence and the result of worrisome and growing reliance on roundly criticized intrusive and overreaching laws.
Dr. Kersmo, a scholar, researcher, and God-fearing Christian believes only a genuine democratic system will bring peace and stability in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Dr. Kersmo is a passionate defender of human rights and a dedicated advocate for social justice. His well-known activism has made him an implacable enemy and a prime target of the Ethiopian regime.
In 2014, Dr. Kersmo was the victim of a high-profile cyber attack by the Ethiopian regime against Ethiopian exile community activists residing in the UK and in the US. The attack specifically targeted computer systems belonging to senior officials of dissident organizations.
Examinations undertaken by Privacy International in collaboration with Citizen’s Lab confirmed the detection of the surveillance software FinSpy on Dr. Kersmo’s computer. This illegal espionage and intrusion into Dr. Kersmo’s privacy on British soil was facilitated by the use of software developed and produced by the British-German company Gamma International.
This active surveillance by a foreign regime beyond its borders and within UK jurisdictions is obviously a grave violation of privacy, freedom and human rights. By engaging in these unlawful activities on UK soil, the Ethiopian regime demonstrated its total disregard for UK laws and its willingness to go to great lengths (using unlawful practices) to stifle dissenting voices and to create an environment of fear among the Ethiopian exile community members who have been granted protection in UK.
Despite these flagrant violations of international and British laws, the UK government has taken no action against the Ethiopian regime, or held Gamma International accountable for the illegal export of software to one of the most repressive regimes in Africa.
We strongly believe that the charges brought against Dr. Kersmo by UK government, a very strong supporter and major financier of the Ethiopian regime, is a politically motivated witch hunt that charts a frightening future for freedom of speech and privacy in the UK. Despite repeated condemnation of the regime led by the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF – an organization listed in the Global Terrorism Database) by various human rights organizations, the EU and the UN, the UK administration continues to pour scarce resources into the coffers of the Ethiopian regime in spite of its deplorable human rights record.
In fact, the UK’s government unconditional support has emboldened the Ethiopian regime to escalate its brutal crackdown inside Ethiopia and to continue to take a belligerent stance against neighboring countries, further destabilizing an already fragile region. Since the 1998 border conflict, Ethiopia and Eritrea have been in a state of war, a situation so precarious it made these two nations a leading source of refugees that are currently engulfing Europe.
The authoritarian regime in Ethiopia and its declaration of a state of emergency in October 2016 has stripped the basic rights and dignity of citizens at times forcing them to change their ethnic identity. The state of emergency that has allowed the regime to rule by fear and terror for 9 months is fueling extremism and risks the disintegration of the 2nd most populous country in Africa.
Dr. Kersmo has been quite open regarding his political activities in general and his support for legally operating dissenting organizations in defense of constitutional freedom and basic rights. One of the organizations he has been supporting is Ginbot 7, Movement for Justice Freedom and Democracy- a secular and non-sectarian organization striving for liberal democracy, and arguably a widely recognized movement with huge following across regional and ethnic divide.
Dr. Kersmo was charged with several counts of violation of section 58 of the U.K. “Terrorism Act 2000”. Civil liberties groups were outraged when the law was first enacted. They had argued that the law could be used against legitimate opposition groups of exiled dissidents who, having no legitimate avenue for dissent under oppressive regimes have fled their country and found safe haven in the United Kingdom.
This is what, Liberty, also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties, had to say on the Act:
“There is a real danger that refugees and others who have fled repressive regimes to the safety of this country will become a legitimate target of the police merely because they support the overthrow of that regime, even if they themselves are opposed to violence.” (Emphasis added).
The charges against Dr. Kersmo are exactly what civil rights groups feared and anticipated will happen and what a California State University Constitutional law professor calls: “Prosecution by Proxy”.
We the undersigned call on UK government:
To drop this politically motivated charge against Dr. Kersmo and to review and amend “Terrorism Act 2000” particularly section 58 of the act to prevent the misuse and the infringement of basic rights. The Act has sweeping power and far too broadly defined provision and that as a result it has been abused to intimidate and persecute law abiding and upstanding individuals such as Dr. Kersmo. The act makes it possible for UK-based activists campaigning for change to be labelled terrorists. Legal experts argue that had the Act been in place during the Thatcher government, they could have made supporting Nelson Mandela illegal.
We ask the UK administration to put forward a legislation that will suspend all manner of support to the Ethiopian regime until it is willing to enact credible reforms and to comply with internationally recognized democratic norms. UK taxpayer’s money should not be used to sustain one of the most deplorable and authoritarian regimes in Africa.
We also urge the UK to use its leverage to pressure the Ethiopian regime to open the political space, respect universally guaranteed human rights and release all political prisoners including Mr. Andargachew Tsege, a British citizen who was secretly kidnapped in Yemen and renditioned to Ethiopia where he had been sentenced to death, in absentia, in 2009.
Ethiopian Advocacy Network is a grassroots organization that was formed in January 2015 by Ethiopian-Americans, Ethiopian activists and community organizers to promote democracy, human rights, and justice in Ethiopia through advocacy, civic education and grass roots mobilization. EAN has a global presence with members in the USA, Africa, Canada and Europe.