- The government of Ethiopia has dropped charges against its citizens accused of attempting to commit genocide, treason and other crimes during the 2005 protests against the alleged vote rigging by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. About 200 people lost their lives in the protests.
At least 136 suspects, including 8 journalists have been discharged and acquitted. But the government would not release several opposition suspects, including key opposition figures, accused of attempting to overthrow the government through violent means, violation of the constitution, among other crimes.
The trial judges adjourned the remaining cases until the end of April to allow accused persons to prepare their defence. Upon conviction of the preferred charges, the suspects would face life in prison or death penalty.
Except two, all the suspects refused to comply with the courts, arguing that their charges are politically-motivated.
The suspects were accused of targeting President Zenawi’s Tigray community during the genocide attempt. The Ethiopian leader accused the opposition of rolling the deadly protests. But the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy has always maintained that the Ethiopian armed security should be prosecuted for killing innocent people.
Ethiopian government was asked to immediately free the 25 journalists being held for 17 months after the prosecution failed to prove charges of subversion against them in the federal high court.
The Paris-based media watchdog - Reporters sans frontiers (RSF) – today issued a statement urging the government to free 13 other journalists held since November 2005.
“The Ethiopian judiciary has begun to realise the extravagant and dangerous side to this drawn-out episode,” it said.
“We are especially glad that Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega have been freed and will now be able to look after their child, who was born in prison last year,” RSF said, expressing delight that the most serious charges against those still being held have been dropped.
The media watchdog advised the Ethiopian government to free the others and then return the country to the path of dialogue and democracy.
The eight freed journalists are managing editors Zekarias Tesfaye (Netsanet), Sisay Agena (Ethiop), Eskinder Nega and his wife Serkalem Fasil (who gave birth to their child in prison last June) (Asqual, Menelik and Satenaw) and Fasil Yenealem (Addis Zena), along with Dereje Habtewold (assistant editor of Menilik and Netsanet), Nardos Meaza (editor of Satenaw) and Feleke Tibebu (assistant editor of Hadar). The court said the government had not proved its case against them.
The court asked editors Dawit Kebede (Hadar), Mesfin Tesfaye (Abay), Andualem Ayele (Ethiop) and Wonakseged Zeleke (Asqual), as well as two others, Zelalem Guebre (Menilik) and Abey Gizaw (Netsanet), who were tried in their absence, to present their defence. “Genocide” and “high treason” charges have been dropped against them and they will be tried for “plotting to overthrow the government” and “incitement to rebellion.”
Two of the 13 journalists still in prison are suspected of being agents of the separatist Oromo Liberation Front.
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