May 8, 2006
Silencing the Opposition in Ethiopia
I wanted to bring this up last week—but got caught up in the excitement/frenzy of the Sudan peace agreements…will President Omar al-Bashir make concessions or press forward as expected with double-speak? It remains to be seen…
Last week Amnesty released a report on prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia. The statement calls on the government to release opposition members, human rights activists, students and journalists who are on trial for treason. They are charged with “outrages against the Constitution” and armed conspiracy. Almost all charges carry death sentences. Reuters South Africa has a story on the treason trial. Seventy-six individuals were expected to appear in court last Tuesday.
“This very worrying trial has major implications for human rights, media freedom and democratization in Ethiopia. It will be a crucial test of the independence and impartiality of the Ethiopian judiciary.” said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.
If you’re familiar with the opposition party in Ethiopia–Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), there’s a heartfelt open-letter to Ms. Birtukan Mideska, the CUD vice president and one of the defendants on trial, posted by blogger Weichegud ET Politics last Friday. It draws a similarity between Birtukan and Rosa Parks at the height of the civil rights movement. She has often been called “a voice of freedom for all Ethiopians.” CarpeDiem Ethiopia has also reprinted Birtukan’s letters from Kaliti prison to U.S. Ambassador Vicki Huddleston.
Many of the defendants were arrested in November 2005 during protests against the government for alleged election fraud in May 2005. Despite this election claiming to have drawn 90% of the voters, the EU election observer team thought it fell short of international standards for fair and free elections. There hasn’t been much more reported in Western media about clamping down on protesters in Ethiopia, other than the Committee to Protect Journalists voicing concern that the defendants may not get a fair trial.
What’s very surprising is that the government is carrying on with this trial which is expected to last months, despite an announcement from Ireland today on its continued support of development in Ethiopia. An Irish delegation had a “fruitful discussion” with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi about the current political situation. But there’s no mention of what’s happening to dissidents or of Ireland’s support for the opposition. The article, picked up by AllAfrica reported the following:
“The aid is spent primarily on addressing the needs of the rural people, by supporting the provision of basic health care, combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, funding teacher training, strenghthening the public service, and supporting good governance and the democratic process,” the embassy added.
I wish it elaborated exactly what type of good governance and democratic process is being supported in Ethiopia. Will the development money be used to strengthen civil society–the same civil society that opposes those in power?
Woman looking for her husband arrested during the election protests last November.