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Ethiopia - Court Convicts Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie
Ethiopian Court Convicts Anti-Poverty Campaigners
ActionAid International USA
Today Ethiopia's Federal High Court convicted anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie, the last remaining defendants in a trial in which they were charged along with 129 others, including leading members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy.
The verdict was met with shock and dismay by ActionAid, the international anti-poverty agency which employed Daniel Bekele and supported Netsanet Demissie's Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia.
All the other defendants were acquitted, or else convicted, sentenced and pardoned, several months ago. But Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie refused to sign an admission of guilt in return for a possible pardon. Instead they persisted with their legal defence, seeking to refute the allegation that in 2005 they were part of a conspiracy to foment political violence and guilty of, as the charge sheet put it, 'the crime of outrage against the constitution and the constitutional order'. This charge was dismissed, but they were found guilty on a lesser charge of incitement.
After leaving the court, ActionAid's chief executive Ramesh Singh said: "This is a terrible shock and disappointment to me personally, to ActionAid, and to Daniel and Netsanet's families and friends across the world. But we will continue to stand by our two brave colleagues. We will be with them if they seek to continue their legal struggle in the appeal court, and we remain hopeful that they will ultimately establish their innocence."
The two men have already spent more than two years in custody. During that time they went as far as the Supreme Court in their repeated but unsuccessful efforts to obtain bail.
The court will deliver its sentence on Wednesday 26 December.
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