Human rights defenders Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie received a two-and-a-half year jail sentence on December
26th for inciting
post-election violence in 2005, but will walk free within days as they have already served their prison time.
The Second Criminal Bench of the Federal High
Court passed guilty
verdict of "inciting violence and uprising against the government".
Their defence lawyer said, however, they would be freed in three days.
On decenber 24th, the Second
Criminal Bench of the
Federal High Court passed
guilty verdict over two
persons convicted of attempting to forcefully dismantle the constitutional
order following the
May 2005 national election by a majority
verdict of the Ethiopian Federal
High Court after a trial of over two years. The presiding judge dissented from the guilty verdict passed by
the other two judges.
They were acquitted of the main
charge of committing “outrages against the Constitution”, which
carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment
or death. However, on
the basis of certain witnesses’ statements which were strongly contested by the defence, they were convicted on the lesser
charge of “provocation and preparation” for the
carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
and Netsanet Demissie have been held
in prison since November
2005 and are
the two remaining defendants in a high-profile trial of human rights
defenders, opposition leaders and journalists, where all the other
defendants have already been released. Some were acquitted in April 2007.
Others pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms in July, but
were swiftly pardoned as part of a negotiated agreement with the
On 22 November, the Ethiopian Federal High Court is due to hand down
a judgement in the long-running trial of Daniel
Bekele and Netsanet Demissie on charges of committing "outrages
against the Constitution".
Daniel Bekele is the policy manager of ActionAid in Ethiopia, and Netsanet
Demissie is the founder and director of the
Organization for Social Justice in Ethiopia. They were arrested in
November 2005 during a period of mass arrests of those suspected of
supporting the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD)
Both Daniel Bekele and Netsanet
Demissie denied any connection to the CUD,
presented their defence and declined to plead
guilty and apply for pardon. As a result, they potentially face life
sentences. Amnesty International has been examining the fairness of the
whole trial, and is deeply concerned that its observers were barred in
July 2007. The Prime Minister had earlier said the trial would be open to
The arrest and detention of Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie took
place during major political unrest after the May 2005 elections.
Opposition demonstrations in Addis Ababa in June and November 2005
protesting at alleged election fraud were violently dispersed and
security forces shot dead 187 people. Six police officers were also
killed, and there was considerable damage to property in the city.
In the aftermath of the demonstrations, tens of thousands of
opposition CUD party members were detained without charge or trial; some
for several months. In December 2005, 131 CUD leaders and officials,
journalists and human rights defenders were placed on trial (several in
their absence) for political offences punishable by death or life
imprisonment. Twenty-eight defendants were freed in April 2007 when the
judges ruled that they had no case to answer. In July 2007, 38 of the
other defendants, who had refused to present a defence,
were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment or long prison terms.
On 20 July, these 38 were
pardoned and released with the agreement of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, after they
signed a letter apologizing for "mistakes" in the
demonstrations. Other similar guilty pleas and pardons followed, leaving
only Daniel Bekele and Netsanet
Demissie currently remaining in prison after
concluding their defence.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English
or your own language:
- calling on the Ethiopian authorities to release immediately Daniel Bekele
and Netsanet Demissie
- stating that Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of
His Excellency Meles Zenawi,
Office of the Prime Minister, PO Box 1031, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 1552020
Salutation: Your Excellency
Minister of Justice
Mr Assefa Kesito, Ministry of Justice, PO Box 1370, Addis
Fax: +251 11 5517775
+251 11 5520874
Salutation: Dear Minister
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission
Ambassador Dr Kassa Gebreheywot,
Chief Commissioner, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission,
PO Box 1165, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 618 0041
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.