New update in the trial against human rights defenders,journalists and political opponents

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, have been informed of a recent update in the trial of human rights defenders, opposition leaders, and journalists that has been pending December 2005, and which was subsequent to massive protests and violent crackdowns in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections in May 2005[1].

The federal prosecution completed presenting its evidence on November 29, 2006 and the case was adjourned to February 10, 2007 for ruling. After some new adjournments, the court read out its ruling on the six working days between March 30 and April 9, 2007. According to the ruling, the prosecution was unable to prove its charge on counts of �attempted genocide� and �high treason�, and these two charges were dropped. Moreover, some 25 of the defendants (of which 8 are journalists), including Mr. Kassahun Kebede, Director of the Addis Ababa branch of the Ethiopian Teachers� Association (ETA), were acquitted and released. Charges against some defendants who have been tried in absentia have also been either suspended or dropped.

However, the court said that the prosecution has proven its case against leaders of the main opposition party and most of the members and supporters, especially on the first count, i.e. �crime of outrage against the constitutional order�. So far, except Mr. Daniel Bekele, Head of Policy Research and Advocacy Department of Action Aid Ethiopia, and Mr. Netsanet Desmissie, founder of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE), all the accused persons have refused to defend themselves, claiming that the charges are politically motivated and that they have no faith in the independence of the court. The case has been adjourned to April 30, 2007.

The Observatory recalls that it sent two international missions of judicial observation to Ethiopia in order to observe this trial in February and October 2006[2]. In view of its findings, the Observatory considered the charges to be arbitrary and disproportionate to the nature of the events that occurred in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. The Observatory also expressed its deepest concern about the fairness of this trial, as it believed it to be a way to silence any political criticism of the current regime.

The Observatory also condemns the continuing repression of human rights defenders and expresses its particular concern about the situation of members of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO). Indeed, since the second crackdown on mass protests, several of EHRCO�s veteran staff have been forced into exile for fear of their lives. Besides, several EHRCO members have been arrested arbitrarily and held in detention for various periods of time in 2006 (See Observatory Annual Report 2006).

Therefore, the Observatory reiterates its recommendations to the Ethiopian authorities urging them to:

- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders;

- Ensure that people subjected to arbitrary arrests, arbitrary charges or those without charges or conviction against them, including Mr. Daniel Bekele, and Mr. Netsanet Desmissie, be immediately released;

- End all forms of harassment and ill-treatment of human rights defenders in Ethiopia, and guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders and organisations are able to carry out their work without any hindrance;

- Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its article 1, which states that �everyone has the right, individually and 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 levels� and article 12.2, which provides that �the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and 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�;

- Conform with the recommendations, conclusions and observations made by Special Procedures of the United Nations concerning Ethiopia, as well as with the resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples� Rights at its 38th Session in Banjul, in December 2005, and endorsed by African Heads of States and Governments at the African Union Summit held in the Gambia in July 2006;

- More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Ethiopia.

[1] 131 people (including legal persons), presumed to be linked with these events, had been charged with crimes including �conspiracy�, �outrage against the Constitution�, �inciting, organising and leading armed rebellion�, �crime against the territorial integrity of the country�, �high treason� and �genocide�, all these charges being liable to sentences ranging from 25 years� imprisonment to death penalty, though not all were charged on all counts. Later on, the Federal Prosecution withdrew its charge of �crime against the territorial integrity of the country�, and the charge of �genocide� was reframed as �attempted genocide�.

Three human rights defenders were part of the co-accused, namely Mr. Kassahun Kebede, Director of the Addis Ababa branch of the Ethiopian Teachers� Association (ETA), Mr. Daniel Bekele, Head of Policy Research and Advocacy Department of Action Aid Ethiopia, and Mr. Netsanet Desmissie, founder of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE), who were all charged with �crime of outrage against the Constitutional order�.

[2] See the mission report that was released on December 22, 2006, at: or

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