Ethiopian political dispute comes to United States – By Jim Snyder

September 21st, 2007 Print Print Email Email

Members of an Ethiopian opposition party who were jailed for 20 months in connection with a disputed election are lobbying the Bush administration and Congress to pressure Ethiopia to support a more open and democratic society.

Members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) delegation also plan to travel to various U.S. cities in an effort to continue to organize Ethiopian-Americans and to thank them for providing financial and political support during their incarceration.
The CUD members were among a group of 38 who were pardoned in July after being imprisoned since November 2005. They had been arrested after months of unrest in Ethiopia that followed elections in May of that year.

A report written by the European Union called the election the “most competitive” Ethiopia had ever held, but said it was “marred by irregular practices, confusion and lack of transparency.” The report credited the government for allowing relatively unbiased campaign coverage in the weeks before the election but said support of Democratic institutions waned in the weeks following the disputed vote.

Government police reportedly arrested as many as 30,000 people in the weeks after the elections. Most were released soon after, but around 70 top CUD members were kept in jail, drawing condemnations from human rights groups and foreign governments.

Most were released in July and August after receiving pardons.

Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States, Samuel Assefa, said the government had hoped the pardons would be the start of “a new chapter allowing us to reinvigorate the democratic process and enable healing to begin.” He said no other members of the CUD remain in jail.

While human rights groups condemned the government for the arrests, Samuel said the pardons were not issued earlier because the government did not want to impinge upon the independence of the judiciary.

“We have to be as fastidious as we can to support the rule of law and the Constitution,” he said.

The pardons came after eight months of negotiations from a group of elders. CUD members said they signed the letters seeking the pardons, which included apologies to the government, even though they believed they had not committed any crimes.

“For the sake of political stability and political dialogue we decided to accept the proposal from the elders,” said CUD member Gizachew Shiferaw, who was elected to a seat in parliament but refused to accept it unless the government agreed to a list of eight conditions CUD members said would promote democracy.

Samuel said CUD letters seeking pardons amounted to an admission of guilt. “Expressions of remorse are not compatible with allegations of trumped-up charges,” he said.

The members had been sentenced to life in prison just days before the pardons were granted.

Gizachew and two other CUD members who met with The Hill this week said they endured harsh conditions in prison as the legal process dragged on.

CUD President Hailu Shawel said he was put in a small, cold room after his arrest.

“I wasn’t allowed to see the sun for a month,” he said. “A man of my age is not going to thrive in that environment.”

Hailu, who is now 71, suffers from diabetes and back pain that requires he use a cane when he walks. Another cell was infested with bugs, he said.

“They would migrate from the cracks in the wall in the middle of the night and come down and give you the treatment,” he recalled.

Conditions improved, Hailu said, when after two months he was transferred to a jail. But he and other CUD members were locked up with criminals even though they believed they were political prisoners.

Samuel denied that the CUD members were jailed because of politics.

Hailu said the U.S. government should do more to ensure human rights are protected in Ethiopia. He believes the U.S. hasn’t because Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is seen as an ally in the war on terror.

“This is where the U.S. is casting a blind eye. They don’t want to see the truth.”

In the protests that followed the election, 193 civilians died and six police officers were killed. The imprisonments and the crackdown on the protests led to an effort in Congress to tie U.S. aid to Ethiopian promises to create an independent judiciary and free press and to support human rights.

The House Foreign Affairs Africa and Global Health subcommittee passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007, authored by chairman Donald Payne (D-N.J.), last spring.

A scheduled markup in the full committee in June was delayed at the urging of the group of elders, who said the measure could complicate their efforts to negotiate the release of the prisoners.

Gizachew and fellow CUD leader Bruck Kebede said using diplomatic back channels to improve Ethiopia’s democratic systems may be more expedient and effective than passing legislation. Hailu said he wanted to see Congress pass the bill.

“The ultimate desire is for all principles contained in the bill to be implemented,” Bruck said.

Samuel said the House bill would “drive a wedge between the two countries.”

“Considerations of this nature should be made soberly. This bill wouldn’t pass the sobriety test,” he said.

CUD members had met with the offices of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Reps. Payne and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), and had scheduled a meeting with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). They were also working to meet with State Department officials.

  1. Gerchi
    | #1

    A message to Prof. Al Mariam!!

    Prof Al Mariam,

    You wrote:
    “In as much as we were an Awakening Giant in America, we face other formidable giants in their own right — the Cyclop known as D.L.A. Piper and its master Tyrannosaurus Zenawi. We face the power of Big Money in the halls of Congress. They will outspend us by a thousand-to-one any day of the week to defeat H.R. 2003.

    But our adversary can not defeat us or our cause if we stand together as one, united in one cause, for one indivisible nation…….”

    However, some CUD leaders seem against HR 2003! What do you say?

    “Gizachew and fellow CUD leader Bruck Kebede said using diplomatic back channels to improve Ethiopia’s democratic systems may be more expedient and effective than passing legislation. Hailu said he wanted to see Congress pass the bill.”

  2. Shumet Menywab
    | #2

    Letter to the Kinijit leadership,

    The current mess, specially, in the Diaspora’s Kinijit supporters, in fight for convincing the leadership to go in two different directions is a sad scenario. We heard that the leadership in prison and right after prison affirmative of one Kinijit regardless of the problem in the Diaspora supporters was evident. But, whatever the problem was, it seams we the Diasporas are trying to divide the released leaders in to two. Can we say that the problem is really one fighting for democracy and the other fighting for dictatorship or it is a computation on who is the true fighter against the dictatorial regime of EPRDF/TPLF?

    The answer and the solution for this mess is that all in the hands of the leadership itself. Calling for general meeting would save the party from being disintegrated. It is a high time to do this first before trying to ask the outside governments and even to our own people to understand how Kinijit is committed for democratic Ethiopia.

    The campaign for democracy around the world is nothing if the party is governed by its own internal problem. Please work on the problem solving of its own integration first!! I am afraid that there are many of us who do not realize how Kinijit has been an effective political opposition against the undemocratic EPRDF/TPLF government. Within a short period of time, this party was able to mobilize the people of Ethiopia who rather would like the political strategy be peacefully than with armed struggle as the usual and typical African way of changing one government by force to end up only in the same old ones.

    Right now, this effective political party finds itself between the allied forces of the US government with the Zenawi one and its own in fight. So I say to this leaders of this Ethiopian hope political party for change, if there are true democratic Ethiopians in this political movement, they shall first bow to their mass and resolve the difference that scare every supporters in the Diaspora and inside Ethiopia. Who knows how much support a political party like Kinijit needs if it can not give a priority to resolve its own differences first!!

  3. sam
    | #3

    this comment is for GERCHI what you said about Bruck and Gizachew is i do not think you
    got their point.What they say is not only passing the bill “the ultimate desire is for all principles contained in the bill to be implemented” I think that is why they are fighting.

  4. concerned
    | #4

    Save Hailu Shawel!

    Hailu Shawel has been hijacked by the Shaleqa and Taye gang. Look at the picture below and see what I mean.

    Check out Mesfin Mekonnen and Dr. Bezabih..They really do have that mafios look.
    A Concerned Ethiopian For Hailu Shawel.

  5. | #5

    I agree on what shumet menyweb wrote.I feel the way you feel. they need to solve their problems first. it is one and one.

  6. dinka
    | #6

    Indeed Ato Hailu is in trouble Taye voluntarly joined the mafia group.However we feel bad about these two individuals please use reserved vocabulary while critisizing them.These two individuals are commiting political sucide I have no explanation why but they paid great price on behalf of Ethiopianess.As the Ethiopian say goes”Kesew sehtet…”

  7. Dreamer
    | #7

    Hailu shawel is hearting kinijit as much as he helped it.
    It is time for this old man to go!!!

    He could retaired for the sake of kinijit, if he ware a real hero.

    I think now kinijit is having the last abstacle, which is called shaleqa hailu shawel.

  8. Mengesha
    | #8

    Facts or realities won’t and can’t be covered with million lies as can be seen today.

    Where is the fact? Who is doing what? And Why?
    We need to ask this question before displaying rough opinion.

    Please read an article written in Amharic “Aye Kaliti! Sintun Gud Yizesh Neber” By Hailu Luel Girma at Don’t miss it.

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