Human rights defenders may face life in prison
November 12, 2007
Human rights defenders Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie face possible sentences of life imprisonment on 22 November. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their peaceful human rights activism.
Both Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie denied any connection to the CUD, presented their defence and declined to plead guilty and apply for pardon. As a result, they potentially face life sentences. Amnesty International has been examining the fairness of the whole trial, and is deeply concerned that its observers were barred in July 2007. The Prime Minister had earlier said the trial would be open to international observers.
In the aftermath of the demonstrations, tens of thousands of opposition CUD party members were detained without charge or trial; some for several months. In December 2005, 131 CUD leaders and officials, journalists and human rights defenders were placed on trial (several in their absence) for political offences punishable by death or life imprisonment. Twenty-eight defendants were freed in April 2007 when the judges ruled that they had no case to answer. In July 2007, 38 of the other defendants, who had refused to present a defence, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment or long prison terms. On 20 July, these 38 were pardoned and released with the agreement of the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, after they signed a letter apologizing for "mistakes" in the demonstrations. Other similar guilty pleas and pardons followed, leaving only Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie currently remaining in prison after concluding their defence.
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