Ethiopia charity workers claim mistreatment

November 6th, 2006 Print Print Email Email

Kaliti, Ethiopia(AFP) - Two defendants in the trial of Ethiopian opposition figures accused of plotting a coup after disputed elections last year complained on Monday of mistreatment in custody.The pair, aid workers Daniel Bekele et Netsanet Demissie, said they were neither “physically nor psychologically” prepared to go on with the trial because of the conditions they are being held in.

Speaking for the two, Bekele told a court here just south of Addis Ababa that they had been separated from the rest of defendants on Friday and that he was placed in a shipping container before being moved to an overcrowded cell.

“Because of all that, I’m psychologically tormented,” he said. “I can hardly sleep and I’m not ready for the cross-examination of the witnesses. We request to the court to return to the place where we were before Friday.”

“We are not physically, nor psychologically ready,” Bekele said. “We have the right to a fair trial. Defendants have to be treated fairly and shouldn’t be exposed to adverse measures.”

“We are appealing to the court to observe our rights,” added Demissie.

Judge Adil Ahmed then asked prosecutors to ensure that the pair are put back in conditions similar to those they were being held in before and adjourned the trial, which is hearing from prosecution witnesses, until Thursday.

Bekele and Demissie are among 111 defendants, including nearly all of the leadership of the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), being tried on various charges, including treason, genocide and conspiracy.

The case has drawn deep concern from donors and criticism from rights groups that maintain the government is trying to stifle dissent in the wake of unrest following the May 2005 election that the CUD claims was rigged.

Opposition protests against alleged massive electoral fraud erupted into two explosions of violence in Addis Ababa and other cities in June and November last year in which 193 civilians and six police were killed.

Authorities say the CUD was attempting to overthrow the government through nationwide protests and prosecutors have presented documents and witnesses they say corroborate a coup plot.

The defendants adamantly deny the charges but most have refused to enter pleas, claiming the trial is a political tool to destroy the opposition.

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