Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2002 - Ethiopia

Legal proceedings against two defenders45

Legal proceedings are still pending against Mr. Mesfin Wolde Mariam, founder member and former Chairman of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) and Mr. Berhanu Nega, Chairman of the Ethiopian Economic Association.

Mr. Wolde Mariam and Mr. Nega were prosecuted after taking part in a meeting about human rights on 8th April at the National Lottery Hall and a seminar at Addis Ababa University on 17th-18th April 2001, when they called for freedom of speech, opinion and academic freedom.

They were arrested on 8th May 2001, accused of incitement to violence and incitement to riot, in connection with student demonstrations on 17th and 18th April, which had been forcibly repressed. On 18th May, they were brought before the Federal High Court, which extended their period of detention. They were released on bail on 5th June 2001, after going on hunger strike to protest against their detention conditions.

Mr. Wolde Mariam and Mr. Nega are facing charges of "organising a clandestine political party for the purpose of changing the constitution by illegal means (Art. 32.1 and 250 (a) of the Penal Code)" and "collaboration in a criminal act intended to achieve the purpose designated in the first count of the indictment, by gathering students of the Addis Ababa University at the National Lottery Hall on 8th April 2001 and, on pretence of informing the students of their rights, making speeches designed to divide the students along ethnic lines, encouraging students to demand their rights and if necessary to sacrifice their lives for the respect of their rights, and inciting the students to obtain respect of their rights through violence and riot rather than constitutional means" (Art. 32.11 (a) and 480 (a) of the Penal Code).

The first hearing of the trial was due to be held on 9th June 2001. It was postponed to 5th December, then to 10th April 2002. On that date the Observatory sent a delegation to observe the hearing. The trial was again adjourned on the pretext that the documents in the case had not been submitted to the judge in advance. It was adjourned to 22nd June, then to 24th September, and a hearing is now due on 7th March 2003. These successive adjournments are a sword of Damocles hanging over the defenders.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

45. See Annual Report 2001 and press release of 26 April 2002.


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