Ethiopia: Amnesty International appeals on behalf of detainees held without charge

The detainees, who include opposition leaders, have been held for more than 12 days without being charged with any offence. Amnesty International considers these people to be prisoners of conscience.

The 24 detainees include:

  • Hailu Shawel, aged 70, president of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party
  • Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, 75, former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
  • Dr Yacob Hailemariam, a former UN Special Envoy and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
  • Ms Birtukan Mideksa, CUD vice-president and a former judge
  • Dr Berhanu Negga, the recently elected Mayor of Addis Ababa and university professor of economics.

Amnesty International fears the detainees may be denied bail and kept in prolonged pre-trial detention in harsh conditions, leading to a lengthy trial with many adjournments, and that they may not receive a fair trial according to international standards.

Police also distributed a “wanted” list with photos of 34 other CUD leaders and others (making a total of 58 altogether), some of whom were in hiding, others abroad at the time.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that these detainees are likely to be charged with treason, which carries a possible death penalty.

Amnesty International calls for an independent and impartial investigation into the killings of demonstrators by the security forces on 8 June and early November 2005.

Background

At least 46 people, including Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights, were shot dead by police and 200 wounded during the previous week’s protests and violent confrontations between police and demonstrators supporting the opposition party’s complaints of alleged election fraud.

A woman was reportedly shot dead at home when she complained about the police arresting her husband, a CUD activist. The authorities said that some hand grenades had been thrown against police and that seven police were killed.

The CUD had called for non-violent protests in Addis Ababa against alleged election rigging, including a stay-at-home strike, and a boycott of ruling party businesses for the following week of 6 November.

The CUD, which gained a third of seats in the elections, is boycotting the new parliament, which has stripped them of their parliamentary immunity.

There were smaller protests in other towns such as Dessie, Debre Berhan and Bahar Dar in the Amhara Region, and Awassa in the Southern Region. These demonstrations involved students, in particular.

Arrests are continuing in Addis Ababa and many other areas. More than 4,000 people altogether have been detained, including many unemployed youth protesters in Addis Ababa, and taken to remote prisons in rural areas, where conditions are harsh.

Many detainees are believed to have been previously arrested during the first post-election demonstrations in June 2005. On 11 November, police said some 2,500 of the detainees had been released without charge, but did not disclose the number or whereabouts of those still held.

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