Open letter to Mr. Woldegiorgis Girma, President of the Republic of Ethiopia

Press release

Mr. President,

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, wish to express their deep concern regarding the continuing detention of several human rights defenders following the new wave of repression and arrests against political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists in November 2005 (see FIDH press releases, dated December 15, 2005 and January 2, 2006, and OMCT urgent appeals Case ETH 031105, Case ETH 031105.1 and Case ETH 031105.2, dated November 3, 2005, November 8, 2005 and November 17, 2005).

According to the information received, on November 1, 2005, Mr. Mesfin Woldemariam, former president of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), was arrested at his home. On November 7, 2005, he appeared along with other defendants before the Federal Court of Addis Ababa, which ordered the extension of their detention for 14 more days, in order to conduct an investigation. He was then denied bail twice on November 21, 2005 and December 1, 2005, and remanded.

On November 28, 2005, M. Woldemariam started a hunger strike to protest his detention. On December 21, 2005, he was formally charged with crimes including, conspiracy and armed uprising, trying to subvert the Constitution, high treason and genocide, along with 128 persons including two minors, opposition activists, human rights defenders and journalists. According to the Ethiopian penal code, maximum sentences for these crimes are ranging from 25 years imprisonment to the death penalty.

The Observatory is also very concerned by the arbitrary detention of Mr. Daniel Bekele, Policy, Research and Advocacy Manager for Actionaid Ethiopia, an international NGO dedicated to the fight against poverty. Indeed, since he was arrested by the police, on November 1, 2005, without any mandate, the Observatory has received no information on his whereabouts, nor on his conditions of detentions. In view of this, the Observatory fears for his physical and psychological integrity. The Observatory recalled that Mr. Bekele had been attacked by two unknown men on October 16, 2005 (see Observatory urgent appeal ETH 002/1005/OBS 098). The Observatory believes this arbitrary detention to be linked with his activities as member of the Executive Committee of the Network of Ethiopian NGOs and other civil society organisations, which monitored May 15, 2005 elections. In this regard, Mr. Bekele had publicly expressed his opinion on irregularities during the electoral process.

The Observatory also fears for the physical and psychological integrity of several members of EHRCO as it has not been able to contact them since the November second wave of repression of elections protests. The Observatory has received no information on their whereabouts:

- Mr. Negist G/Hiwot, former member of the executive committee of EHRCO;

- Mr. Tesfaye Bekele, teacher and Chairperson of the members committee of Dessae Branch, who was detained on October 25 and released on bail on October 28, 2005;

- Mr. Seifu Degu, a teacher by profession and Chair of the Dessae Branch Committee, Mr. Bezu Mekonen and Mr. Chanie Reta, both EHRCO members and teachers, who were detained on November 4, 2005. Mr. Bezu and Mr. Chanie gave themselves up because their wives were earlier taken into custody in their place by the Zone police. They are reported to be detained some 40 km north of Dessae, where their family could not visit them;

- On November 1,and 2, 2005, Messrs. Yared Haile Mariam and Cherinet Taddesse were put on the list of those accused of treason and wanted by the government. Yet, Mr. Yared Haile Mariam was not even in the country at the time of the November protest, but attending a human rights defenders conference in Entebbe starting from October 30, 2005;

- The family home of another employee of EHRCO, Mr. Wondimagegne Gashu, has been under continued surveillance of plainclothes security men, although he is not on the list of wanted people. His mother has been taken and interrogated by the police;

- Mrs. Elfinesh Demissie, teacher and member of EHRCO’s Executive Committee, was made to pay fines from her salary for not coming to school during the week of protest, although the schools were closed and transport interrupted during this period. Furthermore, she has been threatened in writing with a “final action” to be taken against her by higher authorities. The nature of this action has not been specified.

Although, some information indicated that some of them were allegedly detained and part of the 129 people charged with treason - which leads to indicate that they would be detained by State authorities -, this information could not be confirmed by the Observatory, and there is no indication on the existence of any charges that would have been pronounced against them.

The Observatory notes that these events are blatantly violating the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular article 12.2 which stipulates that “the State shall take any 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”.

The Observatory respectfully urges you to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Daniel Bekele, Mesfin Woldemariam and all others human rights defenders detained, and to give public information on the whereabouts of Mr. Bekele and all others EHRCO members.

The Observatory calls upon you to ensure that all detained EHRCO members will be released, in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular article 1 which provides that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international level” and above-mentioned article 12.2, and more generally, with the provisions of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and of international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Ethiopia.

In the hope you will take these considerations and requests into account,

Yours sincerely,

Sidiki Kaba Eric Sottas
President of FIDH Director of OMCT

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