Ethiopian court continues trial for former NSU professor

By MATTHEW BOWERS, The Virginian-Pilot
A former Norfolk State University professor, labeled by international human rights groups as a "prisoner of conscience," will have to defend himself against charges potentially punishable by death, an Ethiopian court has decided.
Yacob Hailemariam, 62, has written to supporters that he and other defendants won't defend themselves because they don't believe the government trial is legitimate.
Hailemariam, who taught business for almost 20 years at the Norfolk college, returned to his native Ethiopia in 2005 to run for a parliament seat as a reformer. Civil unrest followed the election, and he was jailed that October and charged with treason and attempted genocide, among other accusations.
The court, which finished its ruling this week, decided that prosecutors presented enough evidence to require that the trial continue for about half of 131 accused individuals and organizations, according to State Department officials Tuesday who declined to be named per their department's policy.
Some charges were dropped, but the surviving charges involve "outrage against the constitution" and obstructing the government's exercise of its powers, the officials said. The only court date set is April 30, for a procedural matter.
Hailemariam and others have denied the charges, calling them politically motivated. The State Department monitors the trial daily, officials said.
"They've spent 1-1/2 years on principle, hopefully for something," Hailemariam's wife, Tegist, said Tuesday. The family lives in Virginia Beach. "What can you say? You have to move forward. You have to try."
Reach Matthew Bowers at (757) 222-3893 or

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