Will 35 Ethiopians Acknowledge Blame to Win Their Freedom? – By Howard Lesser, VOA

July 17th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

This week’s sentencing of 35 Ethiopian activists to life-in-prison has been followed by reports they are accepting blame in exchange for their freedom. (more…)

This week’s sentencing of 35 Ethiopian activists to life-in-prison has been followed by reports they are accepting blame in exchange for their freedom. The dilemma of signing a government release in exchange for a reprieve invites the question of whether the government is trying to coax the pardons in order to get the dissidents out of the international human rights spotlight. Dr. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says he does not yet know how officials in Addis Ababa intend to handle the convictions. But he notes that the sentences themselves were harsh, considering the lack of evidence presented in court.

Listen to CSIS Analyst Stephen Morrison audio clip

Listen to CSIS Analyst Stephen Morrison audio clip

“They seem pretty excessive. They had been threatening executions, so then it looks like they’re stepping down, that it’s still part of a broader sort of repressiveness of opposition after the ’05 elections,” he said.

Ethiopia’s political opposition was strengthened in 2005 elections by winning a record number of seats in parliament. The opposition staged mass protests after the vote, charging that the outcome was rigged to keep Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in power. At least 193 Ethiopians lost their lives in the ensuing government crackdown on demonstrators. Morrison says that facing mass protests, Ethiopian officials viewed the opposition as a strategic threat to the Meles government, not a legitimate form of protest against the electoral outcome. He says although he was relieved that the prosecution’s calls for a death sentence were reduced this week to life-in-prison outcomes, the government did not have a powerful case to present in court against the 35 defendants.

“It would have been completely outrageous if they had gone to death sentences. So that doesn’t eliminate the question around ‘Were these punishments of life sentences proportionate to the crimes that were committed?’ And I remain unconvinced that they were proportionate at all. And I don’t think that the prosecution made a very convincing case,” he said.

Given the close cooperation between Washington and Addis Ababa on restoring a civilian government in Somalia and opposing Al-Qaida in the war against terrorism, Morrison says he does not foresee a high-profile US criticism of this week’s verdicts. But he notes that the diaspora community of Ethiopian immigrants in the United States is becoming increasingly vocal and effective in sounding its disfavor with the treatment of dissenters in their former home.

“There has been a maturation and coalescence of Ethiopian opposition politics within the United States, that is, within the resident population. There’s a sizeable Ethiopian population in the United States, many of whom are citizens of the United States who have become quite vocal and well organized. That’s a factor. That’s an interesting development. And that’s something that doesn’t dominate the US policy perspective, but it certainly is a new factor in shaping and particularly in certain constituencies, it gets attention in Congress,” he said.

  1. j.p.h
    | #1

    “It would have been completely outrageous if they had gone to death sentences. So that doesn’t eliminate the question around ‘Were these punishments of life sentences proportionate to the crimes that were committed?’ And I remain unconvinced that they were proportionate at all. And I don’t think that the prosecution made a very convincing case,” he said.

    When you examine the above comment of “CSIS” director, what comes to once mind is as if he is defending the jailed leaders in Ethiopia. But the phrase “were these punishments proportionate to the CRIME THAT WERE COMMITED” tells us that the director still believes that the elected leaders have committed crime and Meles Zenawi is an innocent PM.

    Look dear Ethiopians the Americans didn’t get the point fully. Meles is still deceiving them.
    There are some improvements though. They are now questioning the tyrant’s legitimacy. Thanks to you demonstrations compatriots in Washington and around the world.
    But our struggle should continue up to the down fall of tyranny.
    Ethiopia should prevail!

  2. Mussa Ghedi
    | #2

    jph,
    I think the fact that prominent peopele like Mr Lesser raise the case of the opposition leaders who are now, as we realise sententenced to life imprisonment is a positive trend. The woyane regime’s infantile court case againest the opposition could only be summerised as a child’s game. Many have long ago realised its fakeness, deceit and woyane’s effort to make a case out of nothing(genocide, briech of constitution, trying to topple the government by force etc. etc.), we know all these are lies. People like Mr Lesser do so as well. I also believe that Mr Lesser does not imply that the defendents are guilty but his statement is an indication that the whole process is disproportionet even if they were proven guilty.
    So my friend, we need to make more friends that would help us to highlight the demise of our people back home. We need more voices like Mr Lesser to help us creat more awareness on the international arena. If they make ommitions or misunderstand the real situation then it should be our patriotic task to help them set the records straight.

    Allah bless

  3. Tegen
    | #3

    It is really funny that many people still belive that the proisoners were and are inocent, people like Hailu Shawel were openly saying that they are going to topple the government within weeks…that they were going to dismantle every government institutions as if they were built by a foreign invading army. In simple words they told the world clearly what their intentions are.

    As far as I know, they were planing to get rid of the government by any means neccesary and for someone who’s brain still functions properly, it is no surprise that the government will take appropriate actions to avert that, this applies to all governments around the world.

    I think one needs to be brave enough to call spade a spade, they have tried it, they totally underestimated the government and tought if they give it a push it will crumble. But look at where they are today, they have to kiss the foot of the government which they hated so much and had no respect at all. Who is the looser now??????

  4. biniam
    | #4

    Tegene, I think your mind not work properly ,It is a matter of all the wayane official will be in jail like derg.

  5. lewutfelagi
    | #5

    Shut up Mr. Tegen. Stupid. Meles tried to fool the world but no one accepted his extended lies. Then, he has to find a hole to escape the disaster. He prepared a letter begging CUD to agree on a little bit of taking partial responsibility. CUD, the collection of great intellectuals said “ok, lets help this looser” and signed the document. Then melese did a really babyish job. He prepared the document walta is circulating, scanned the CUDs’ signature and copy-paste it and announced it with the media he is fully controling.

    You will hear in few days, CUD leaders proudly exposing the reality.

    Let alone brave Ethiopians, the whole world knows who meles is. We will fight TPLF till they are overthrown and they will pay for what they did.

    Determined ethiopians are doing their job on a way woyane didn’t realize.

    Democracy for Ethiopia

  6. Gomie
    | #6

    Tegen,

    Do you believe we have had a legitmate government? Never been since its beginning? If you are one of the blood suckers of the Ethiopian people, you may have to support until your groups’ ending. But, it is a non-value adding to the society you have to live in.

    Democracy for Ethiopia!

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