EHRCO members released on bail

08/07/2005
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), received some new information regarding the situation in Ethiopia.

ETH 001 / 0605 / OBS 040.2

Releases / Judicial proceedings

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) of the release of Mr. Taddesse Chernet, mandated by EHRCO to report on the human rights violations perpetrated by the police against demonstrators in Addis Ababa on June 8, 2005, Mr. Tsegu Birhanu, Head of the Monitoring and Investigation Department of EHRCO, and Mr. Yared Halemariam, his assistant.

According to the information received, these three defenders, who had been arrested on June 9 and 13, 2005 (See background information), were released on bail on July 4, 2005 at noon, following a third court hearing before the temporary federal court of Zeway on the same day. They are formally charged with “trying to overthrow a legitimate government by force”. It is now up to the Prosecutor to decide whether or not their case will be transferred to the court of Addis Ababa. During their detention in the center of Zeway, no lawyers were allowed to see them neither in prison nor during their hearings before the Zeway court.

The Observatory welcomes Messrs. Chernet, Birhanu and Halemariam’s release on bail, in which international pressure certainly played a key role, and thanks all the persons, organisations and institutions who intervened in favour of their releases.

Moreover, the Observatory recalls that the case of Mr. Tesfawe Bekele and Mr. Seifu Degu, respectively Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the Dessae Branch Office of EHRCO, and Mr. Chane Kebede, member of EHRCO, who were released on bail on June 23, 2005 (See background information), is still pending even if no formal charges have been issued against them. They are also accused of “trying to overthrow a legitimate government by force”, and they should appear before a judge soon.

The Observatory considers that the charges against Messrs. Chernet, Birhanu, Halemariam, Bekele, Degu and Kebede are arbitrary since they aim at sanctioning their activities as human rights defenders. These facts are in blatant violation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 6.b, which states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, as provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Moreover, the Observatory remains preoccupied by the constant intimidations exerted by security forces over EHRCO members, which have increased since the protests on June 8, 2005. Indeed, EHRCO staff is daily marked by individuals, followed by cars and their office is watched by unknown persons everyday.

Background information:

On June 8, 2005, numerous students and activists of opposition political parties protested in the streets following the provisional results of the May 15 legislative elections, which turned out in favour of the incumbents. These activists denounced the massive embezzlement and fraud that compromised the entire electoral process. At least 26 people reportedly died and one hundred were injured.

During the night following these events, Mr. Taddesse Chernet was arrested by the police at his home. His whereabouts were at the time not revealed. Mr. Chernet was then located in the detention center of Zeway. He was unformally charged with “throwing stones at the police forces during the protests”.

On June 13, 2005, Mr. Birhanu and Mr. Halemariam were arrested together by security forces while leaving EHRCO office after work. Security forces forced them to get into a car. These two defenders were investigating the human rights violations that occurred during the demonstrations, visiting hospitals and taking photographs of the deceased or wounded demonstrators. They were marked by the police while performing these visits. They were also detained in Zeway.

On June 14, 2005 Mr. Tesfawe Bekele, Mr. Seifu Degu and Mr. Chane Kebede were arrested while they were working at the preparatory school in Dessae, before being detained at Dessae prison. Mr. Tesfawe Bekele and Mr. Seifu Degu were both EHRCO supervisors during the election process (see Observatory press release on June 15, 2005). They were released on bail on June 23, 2005.

Actions requested:

Please write to the Ethiopian authorities urging them to:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Taddesse Chernet, Tsegu Birhanu, Yared Halemariam, Tesfawe Bekele, Seifu Degu and Chane Kebede, as well as of all EHRCO members and human rights defenders in Ethiopia;

ii. Ensure the unconditional release of Messrs. Chernet, Birhanu, Halemariam, Bekele, Degu and Kebede, in the absence of valid legal charges, and if such charges exist, ensure that they are given a prompt and fair trial, in which their procedural rights are guaranteed at all times;

iii. Comply with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the Assembly General of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular its article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international level”, its article 6.a which states that “everyone has the right to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as to how those rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative, judicial or administrative systems”, its article 6.b mentioned above, and its article 12.2, which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

iv. More generally, conform with the provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and with all other international human rights instruments binding Ethiopia.

Addresses:

Prime Minister, His Excellency Meles Zenawi, Office of the Prime Minister, P O Box 1031, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Fax: + 251 1 552020 / 552030

Minister of Justice, Mr Harka Haroye, Ministry of Justice, P.O. Box 1370, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Fax: + 251 1 51 77 75 / 520874, Email: ministry-justice@telecom.net.et

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Ethiopia in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, July 8, 2005

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a joint FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders, and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the Emergency Line:

E-mail: observatoire@iprolink.ch

Tel and Fax FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / + 33 1 43 55 18 80

Tel and Fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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