Ethiopia: pardon granted for 38 opposition party members. FIDH calls for the release of all the other political prisonners

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the decision of Girma Wolde-Giorgis, the Ethiopian President, to grant pardon to 38 out of the 43 defendants sentenced to life or to years of prison on 16 July 2007 by the Federal High Court judge.

FIDH recalls that on 16 July 2007, the High Court judge, Adil Ahmed, decided not to follow the State prosecutor’s request for death penalty against these 43 defendants who were prosecuted in connection with the June and November 2005 spontaneous street protests that occurred in the aftermath of the March 2005 elections [1] . Instead, he handed down life sentences to many of them and until 18 years of prisons for others, sentences which FIDH denounced as being disproportionate to the nature of the events.

The President’s decision is welcomed all the more since the fairness of the trial had been brought into question. Indeed, concerned by the human rights violations committed during these protests and the trial, FIDH sent two international missions to Ethiopia in order to observe this trial. According to the mission delegates, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s commitment to provide a «fair, prompt, rapid and transparent trial», had been challenged by many irregularities: absence of court warrants, continuing delays of the procedure, violation of the right to be tried in a speedy manner, use of illegally obtained or manufactured evidences, and violation of the defendants’ rights to examine all evidences submitted against them and violation of their right to express their views at the court [2].

Among these 38 ex-defendants were the top leaders of the opposition party CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy), including human rights defenders such as Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam (founder and long-time chairperson of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, FIDH member organization in Ethiopia) and journalists.

FIDH urges the Ethiopian authorities :

* in particular the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, to ask for the immediate release of all the political prisoners arrested in connection with the post-electoral events whether the other 5 sentenced and those whose cases are still pending;

* to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for the abolition of the death penalty;

* to 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 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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