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Amnesty: Activists should be compensated for time wasted behind bars
Ethiomedia | March 28, 2008
Daniel and Netsanet
SEATTLE, Washington - Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were prisoners of conscience, detained and convicted for their peaceful work, Amnesty International said on Friday, urging the two activists should receive compensation for the period they lost behind bars. Following is Amnesty's news release:

Amnesty International today welcomed the release of human rights activists Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie, who had been detained in Ethiopia since November 2005, but said the two prisoners of conscience should be compensated for the time they spent in prison.

The two men were released today, having received a presidential pardon after they signed a letter “acknowledging mistakes” committed in relation to the 2005 elections. It is not yet clear if the pardon is unconditional.

“These two men did not commit any acts for which they need to seek pardon,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

“They were prisoners of conscience, detained and convicted solely for their peaceful work as human rights defenders. They should have their convictions unconditionally pardoned, and should receive compensation for the period they were unfairly imprisoned.”

Daniel Bekele is the policy manager of ActionAid in Ethiopia. Netsanet Demissie is the founder and director of the Organization for Social Justice in Ethiopia. Both are prominent human rights lawyers.

Both men chose to enter a defence, unlike other co-accused, during a trial that ran for over two years. In December 2007, they were convicted by a majority verdict of the Ethiopian Federal High Court of provoking and preparing “outrages against the Constitution” and were sentenced to 30 months imprisonment.

According to Amnesty International, the prosecution failed to present evidence that either Daniel Bekele or Netsanet Demissie incited violence and the judges convicted them on the basis of the testimonies of two witnesses whose credibility was doubtful and strongly contested by the defence. The Ethiopian government barred representatives from Amnesty International from observing the trial in July 2007.

AFP/Reuters: How they covered the event

Nairobi - Two Ethiopian rights activists detained for inciting violence in the country's disputed 2005 elections were freed on Friday, a rights group said.

Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were sentenced to 30 months in jail in December, but had already served an equivalent term after being denied bail seven times.

"We are thrilled that Daniel and Netsanet have finally been released from prison. It has been a long wait for them and their families, but finally freedom and justice is theirs," Kumi Naidoo, an official with Global Call to Action Against Poverty for which the pair worked, said.

Bekele and Demissie were the only remaining defendants out of more than 100 opposition figures and journalists put on trial following 2005 polls which the ruling party won but the opposition claimed were rigged.

It is indeed a wonderful moment for civil society in Ethiopia," said Irfan Mufti of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), which both men also worked for.

Demonstrators took to the streets to protest at polls in May 2005 that the opposition said were rigged. A parliamentary inquiry said 199 civilians and police were killed and 30,000 people arrested. The government denied rigging the ballot.

Most of the 131 people originally charged were freed last year after the government published a letter it said opposition leaders had signed admitting their guilt and repenting.

Both Bekele and Netsanet had been involved in deploying observers at polling stations in and around the capital Addis Ababa during the election. They were sentenced in December 2007 to two and a half years in jail. (Reporting by Daniel Wallis)

Press Statement by Civicus - World Alliance for Citizen Participation

After a long two years and five months in prison, the two Ethiopian anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were released from prison this afternoon.

“We are thrilled that Daniel and Netsanet have finally been released from prison. It has been a long wait for them and their families, but finally freedom and justice is theirs. The release is a testament to Daniel and Netsanet’s contributions to human rights and poverty eradication in Ethiopia, Africa and around the world, and is a vindication of civil society efforts to confront injustice.” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Co-Chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), speaking from outside Kaliti Prison in Addis Ababa upon their release.

Daniel and Netsanet, both coordinators of GCAP in Ethiopia, were today released following recent negotiations. While they were acquitted on treason related charges in December 2007, they were found guilty on the lesser charge of “provocation and preparing incitement” and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. If they had served the full sentence, they would have been released in early May 2008.

“It is indeed a wonderful moment for civil society in Ethiopia. Two of the country’s most courageous defenders of human rights and social justice are once again free. Today, their release is being celebrated in the over 100 country coalitions of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and CIVICUS members in more than 120 countries,” said Irfan Mufti, Campaign Manager of GCAP.

Daniel and Netsanet were the last two remaining detained in the high profile treason trial that originally charged 131 journalists, politicians and civil society leaders on 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 parliamentary elections.

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. Daniel and Netsanet were instrumental in coordinating legitimate election monitoring activities by local civil society organisations during the May 2005 election.

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For more information, visit
www.civicus.org


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