Ethiopian Prisoners in Vote Protest Case Are Pardoned and Released

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 20 — Ethiopia pardoned and released 38 opposition politicians and activists on Friday in a case that had been widely criticized as political punishment.
Dozens of supporters cheered and waved Ethiopian flags as the prisoners left Kaliti Prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Some of them had been incarcerated for nearly two years on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Earlier this week, a judge sentenced 30 of the prisoners to life in prison.
Western nations, which give hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid to Ethiopia, had been urging the government to release the prisoners. But Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Friday that the pardon had nothing to do with Western pressure. “The Ethiopian government isn’t willing and is unable to be run like a banana republic from Capitol Hill,” Mr. Meles said in a news conference.
Among those freed were the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa, Berhanu Nega, and a former Harvard scholar and the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam.
The 38 were jailed in November 2005 after landmark elections in which the leading opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, said it had won a large number of seats in the Ethiopian Parliament. When the ruling party announced different results, opposition supporters poured into the streets in protest.
Army commandos were trucked into the capital, and sharpshooters took to the rooftops. A report later commissioned by the government found that the police used “excessive force,” resulting in the deaths of 193 civilians. The government also arrested 30,000 people.
Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health, said he was going ahead with a bill he wrote that seeks to withhold nonessential aid to Ethiopia if certain conditions, including an improved human rights record, are not met. “These prisoners should never have been put in prison for exercising their constitutional rights,” Mr. Payne said Friday. “Those security personnel who murdered 193 innocent civilians are still free.”

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at2:39 PM


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