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Ethiopia: Concerns About Political Trials Of Opposition Activists, Human Rights Defenders And Journalists
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is deeply concerned about the charges held against 129 persons including 2 minors, opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists.
Since May 15, 2005 and the Ethiopian parliamentary elections, repression has come down in Ethiopia. In June and November 2005, two waves of repression of the elections protests led to the death of almost 100 people including unarmed protesters, students and children. Thousands of people have been arrested.
On December 21, 2005, 131 people were denied bail and formally charged with crimes including, conspiracy and armed uprising, trying to subvert the Constitution, high treason and genocide. They were given until 28 December to enter their pleas. According to the Ethiopian penal code, maximum sentences for these crimes are ranging from 25 years imprisonment to the death penalty.
The names and activities of most of the accused are unknown but according to the information received they include 2 teenage boys aged 14 and 15, 10 elected parliamentarian and leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), at least 12 journalists, 2 anti-poverty activists, Messrs. Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie from Actionaid Ethiopia, an international NGO dedicated to the fight against poverty, and Mr. Mesfin Woldemariam, former president of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), FIDH member organization in Ethiopia.
On December 28, 2005, the judge of the Federal High Court of Addis Ababa released 2 defendants who will face separate charges and remanded the 129 others defendants including the 2 boys into custody for a further 7 days until the pending ruling on their bail applications. 32 of them who are living in exile will be tried in abstentia. According to our information, the defendants are not allowed to meet their lawyers.
The FIDH considers that these charges are disproportionate and are indeed a way to silent down opposition and human rights activists.
The FIDH is also extremely worried about the situation of the members of EHRCO and fears for their physical and psychological integrity. Indeed, since the November wave of repression, FIDH has been unable to contact its members and has no information on their whereabouts.
The FIDH is therefore urging
the Ethiopian government to :
* ensure that all unlawfully detained prisoners, human rights activists, journalists will be released,
* guarantee fair trials to the other detainees as defined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified in 1993 and notably the rights to be informed promptly of the nature and cause of the charge against them, to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defense and to communicate with their lawyers and to be tried without undue delay,
* comply with its international obligations under article 6(5) of the ICCPR by excluding the imposition of the death penalty by persons below eighteen years of age and more generally to conform with the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (1990) and Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (1984),
* refrain from applying the death penalty and to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for the abolition of death penalty,
* guarantee, at all times, the freedoms of opinion and expression as well as the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and to political assembly, in compliance with the Ethiopian Constitution and the international and regional instruments ratified by Ethiopia and, notably the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR),
* guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders in compliance with international instruments especially the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1998.
the United Nations to :
* immediately establish an independent inquiry commission to investigate the human rights violations committed by security forces in Ethiopia in connection with the May 15, 2005 elections, of which the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and a member of the Working Group on arbitrary detention should be a part.