Verdict Delayed: Ethiopian activists now detained for over two years – civicus.org
The Verdict for Anti-poverty activists, Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie has been delayed.
Anti-poverty activists Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie today heard that they must wait in prison for at least another six weeks, as judges in Ethiopia’s Federal High Court again delayed the verdict until 22 November 2007, bringing their total detention to over two years. Both activists are recognised by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.
“The courts must stop delaying. It is unacceptable to force these courageous civil society leaders to spend any longer in prison. Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Kumi Naidoo, CIVICUS Secretary General and co-chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).
Daniel and Netsanet were due to hear their verdict this morning, 9am local time in Addis Ababa, on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government, specifically, “outrage against the constitution and constitutional order.” Both coordinators of GCAP, they are the last two accused in the high profile Ethiopian treason trial that originally charged 131 politicians, journalists, organisations and civil society leaders.
“Both are dedicated GCAP campaigners. They spoke out against injustice in their country, so it’s a double tragedy they won’t be able to take part in GCAP’s global Stand Up and Speak Out day of action on 17 October. When we stand up next week, we will be speaking out in solidarity with them too,” said Naidoo.
In delaying the verdict, the judges explained that the Prosecution, and subsequently the Defence, had submitted their final comments to the court later than expected, not allowing the judges adequate time to make a decision.
Aside from their work with GCAP, Daniel is also head of the policy department at ActionAid International Ethiopia. Netsanet is also the founder of local human rights group Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia. Both Daniel and Netsanet assisted in monitoring the May 2005 election, peaceful and legitimate civil society work for which they now stand trial.
At the start of the trial in May 2006, 131 opposition politicians, journalists and civil society leaders stood accused of a range of charges from genocide to treason. They were among thousands who were detained following protests accusing the government of rigging the 15 May 2005 presidential elections. Many of the accused were acquitted during the course of the trial. Others were convicted but pardoned in July and August 2007 – all of whom had allegedly signed a confession, admitting use of “unconstitutional means to change the constitutionally established government functions” following the 2005 elections.
Although they were asked to sign a similar statement, Daniel and Netsanet declined. They argued that their activities in 2005 were entirely legal and did not serve to undermine, but rather to protect and promote Ethiopia’s constitutional order.
For more information or interviews, please contact:
Julie Middleton, CIVICUS Civil Society Watch at +27 82 4036040, firstname.lastname@example.org
Micha Hollestelle, CIVICUS Media Manager at +27 76 6338525, email@example.com
Ciara O’Sullivan, GCAP Media Coordinator at +34 679 594 809, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on CIVICUS: www.civicus.org
For more information on GCAP Stand Up and Speak Out on 17 October: www.whiteband.org