Justice, of sorts

From The Economist print edition
Some political prisoners have been freed but many more are still in jail

AN ETHIOPIAN federal court judge surprised everyone this week by throwing out the charges of genocide and treason brought against opposition politicians and their allies arising from the violent protests against the general-election results of 2005. The clemency was not all it appeared, but it is good news all the same.
Twenty-five of the 100 or more suspects were freed from prison immediately, most of them journalists and publishers. However, opposition leaders, including Berhanu Nega and Hailu Shawel, remain behind bars. They now face separate charges of attempting to overthrow the government of President Meles Zenawi through the street protests that led to the deaths of at least 193 civilians and six policemen after the flawed election. An independent inquiry collapsed when several of its judges fled abroad, citing threats and government attempts at a cover-up.
Human-rights groups are heartened by the judge's decision but point out that the remaining charges still carry the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison. Opposition supporters are divided. Some think their leaders should now defend the charges, which they have so far refused to do. The verdict will relieve foreign diplomats in Addis Ababa, the capital; they have been tying themselves in knots to defend the failings of a government that is one of their largest recipients of aid.
This is particularly true of the United States. Despite the misgivings of some congressmen, who think Mr Meles a dictator, some in the Bush administration see “Christian” Ethiopia (where half the people are in fact Muslim) as a bulwark against Islamist expansion in the Horn of Africa. Proof of that came to light recently with the embarrassing revelation that Ethiopia had been allowed to buy arms from North Korea, despite the UN sanctions against that country that America had insisted on.
The Americans were also indirectly involved in the detention of 41 “terror suspects” in Ethiopian prisons after the rout of Islamist forces in Somalia in January. The Ethiopians, who led the war against the Islamists, say the prisoners were not held secretly and that they had consular and legal representation. But they do admit that American and other foreign intelligence agents interrogated some of them; most of them are now due to be released.
So where are the terrorists who were supposed to have been rounded up after the fall of Somalia's Islamists? Ethiopia is still embroiled in Somalia. Some Somalis say that last week's fighting in Mogadishu, their capital, caused more than 1,000 deaths. But no al-Qaeda people or Somali jihadists were reported killed or captured. Bad news for Ethiopia—and by extension America.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at1:45 AM


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