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Ethiopian anti-poverty campaigners acquitted of treason, found guilty of incitement
25 December 2007 – After more than two years in prison, anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie were today acquitted on treason related charges but were found guilty on the lesser charge of "provocation and preparing incitement" related to their legitimate work following the May 2005 Ethiopian elections.
"While we welcome Daniel and Netsanet's effective acquittal on more serious treason related charges, we are shocked and dismayed by their conviction today. These courageous activists could easily have been out of prison several months ago, had they signed a confession. However, they are the only two who refused as they did not want to criminalise civil society activities in Ethiopia, said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Co-Chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) who was at the trial this morning.
Daniel and Netsanet, coordinators of GCAP in Ethiopia, were today found guilty by the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa for provocation and preparing incitement in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. They are due to be sentenced on Wednesday, 26 December.
In delivering the judgement, the judges rejected much of the testimony and evidence presented by the prosecution. There was visible shock in the court room when they were convicted of the lesser charge, based on testimony of two witnesses who the presiding judge previously ruled were unreliable. Unfortunately, his opinion is a minority opinion, as it was in April 2006, when he ruled that Daniel and Netsanet did not have a case to answer.
"We agree fully with the presiding judge who ruled that all their work during and after the elections, was professional, legal and in line with the constitution. We regret that the two associate judges ruled against Daniel and Netsanet. But we are hopeful that they will be reunited with their families on 27 December, as they have been convicted of a much lesser charge, which they may appeal, and they have already spent a considerable amount of time in prison, " said Kumi Naidoo.
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.
At the start of the trial in May 2006, 131 opposition politicians, journalists, civil society leaders and organisations stood accused of 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. Many of the accused were acquitted during the course of the trial. Others were convicted but pardoned in July and August 2007 – all of whom had allegedly signed a confession, admitting use of "unconstitutional means to change the constitutionally established government functions" following the 2005 elections.
Although they were asked to sign a similar statement, Daniel and Netsanet declined. They argued that their activities in 2005 were entirely legal and did not serve to undermine, but rather to protect and promote Ethiopia's constitutional order.
Recognised as Amnesty International prisoners of conscience, Daniel and Netsanet have been consistently denied bail, even after seven attempts, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Kumi Naidoo will remain in Ethiopia for the sentencing on 26 December and is available for interviews.
they were released from jail this morning (12/26/07. so let them move on with there life. its over its almost 2008 why are you guys still stuck in 2005. its like you wish it could happen agian so you have something to cry about..lol
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