Siye Abraha released after six harrowing years

Eritrean leadership in Ethiopia
"We fought for Eritrean independence from the colonial rule of Ethiopia. Even now, if Eritrea is attacked, EPRDF would jump into Eritrea, join the Eritrean people and engage the enemy." - Sebhat Nega on Radio Woyane (May 28, 2007)
Former Defense Minister Siye Abraha and the heroic Ethiopian army which liberated Badme in 1999
ADDIS ABABA - Siye Abraha, a former defense minister many observers credit as the architect of the 1998-2000 War whose battle successes had brought Ethiopian forces closer to storming the Eritrean capital of Asmara, was set free on Wednesday after six years in jail. Siye and his four family members were charged with 13 cases of corruption but many agree his crime was to try to punish Eritrea for its aggression while leaving Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in power in Addis.

Siye and his Ethiopian colleagues had accused Meles and his Eritrean camp of treason: aborting Ethiopia's military successes in favor of Eritrea. Despite their serious charges, it was very clear the Ethiopian wing of TPLF was lacking in preparation to stem any onslaught from the Eritrean side.

Consequently, Meles moved swiftly and stripped Siye and his dissident comrades almost of their Ethiopian citizenship rights as they were purged from the party, government and parliament in the shortest time possible.

Meles backed up the purge with corruption charges that carry from 3 to 15 years in prison. But a judge set Siye free for lack of evidence. However, Meles reversed the court order, decreed a law over the weekend, and denied Siye the right to bail. The judge who had set Siye free, Ms. Bertukan Mideksa, is now one of the prominent opposition leaders who a few days ago appeared before court and learned that the government was seeking death sentences for the 38 defendants.

In an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) Amharic Program, Siye said he was happy to return back to his family. He firmy denied any wrongdoing, but stressed it was good to see the pain of the his family was over after six harrowing years.

He cited judges Birtukan Mideksa, Woldemichael Meshesha and Frehiwot Samuel as strong-willed judges who couldn't work freely because of the interference of the "politicians." (Birtukan is in jail while the two live in exile).

As a last remark, Siye said there would never be peace unless the rule of law is respected in the country. Would Siye and his dissident colleagues return to politics and try to reverse the damage done during their time in power? It is a matter of wait and see.

The fate of the other defendants

According to Addis Fortune magazine, Assefa Abraha, Siye's younger brother and former chairman of the once Ethiopian Privatisation Agency, received a sentence of nine years imprisonment, while the former general manager of the Agency, Beshah Azmte, was sentenced to eight years behind bars. The businessmen, Fitsumze'ab Asgedom and Heraier Behesnilian, were also charged along with Assefa and Beshah, with Fitsumze'ab, publisher of The Monitor, receiving a five-year term. However, the sentence on Heraier, a major shareholder of Hagbes Plc, importer of vehicles, generators and machineries, remains to be read to the jury as he is abroad for medical treatment.

In the case of Fistumezeab, brother-in-law to Assefa, the Commission accused them of involvement in corruption when transferring ownership of Harar Printing Press, Gulele Soap Factory and Taitu Hotel; they were convicted only on the sale of the soap factory. The Court also has found them guilty of providing unlawful advantage to Heraier in the sale of Debre Zeit Flour Mill.

However, none of them but Tamrat will remain behind bars either because they have been jailed for over five years during the time of their litigation or they will be released on probation, expect family members.

"We need to review a copy of the decision before we state our position on the sentences, considering the charges we had made before a week," the Chief Prosecutor told Fortune.

Kalayu Mehari, attorney for Abraha's family, also declined to comment on the ruling before reading a copy of the decision.