Attacks on the Press in 2008: Ethiopia

The small vanguard of independent media that emerged from a brutal 2005 crackdown struggled in the face of continuing government harassment. Although authorities issued licenses allowing a handful of independent political newspapers to operate, they continued to use imprisonment, threats, and legal and administrative restrictions to suppress coverage of sensitive issues.

In February, the government authorized the private, Amharic-language newsweeklies Awramba Times and Harambe, reversing an earlier decision to deny them licenses. The publishers, Dawit Kebede and Wosonseged Gebrekidan, were among a number of journalists pardoned in 2007 after spending 21 months in detention on trumped-up antistate charges. Authorities continued to deny licenses to three other former prisoners: award-winning publisher Serkalem Fasil; her husband, columnist Eskinder Nega; and publisher Sisay Agena. All three were acquitted of the same antistate charges in 2007.

For much of the year, commercial licenses were subject to the approval of the Ministry of Information, which wielded its authority arbitrarily. In an unexpected move in late October, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced the dissolution of the Ministry of Information. It was not immediately clear what structure would replace the ministry.

In April, the country held local council and parliamentary balloting—the first since the disputed 2005 elections that led to widespread protests and violence. Ethiopia’s splintering opposition boycotted the April elections to protest alleged intimidation, and the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, in power since 1991, swept seats across the board.

Political coverage proved risky, particularly when it involved the exile-based Ginbot 7 movement. Named for the date in the Ethiopian calendar on which the tumultuous 2005 election took place, the movement, headed by opposition figure Berhanu Nega, calls for “all kinds and means of struggle” to challenge the government.

In August, when Awramba Times reported Ginbot 7’s launch of a radio program broadcasting into Ethiopia via satellite and the Internet, the paper received phone warnings from police officials to stop any coverage of “anticonstitutional organizations.” The same month, publisher Kebede was questioned by police over a series of political stories in five separate issues of Awramba Times, including an editorial challenging the government’s assertion of high voter turnout in April’s general elections, and a column by the Ginbot 7 leader that compared Zenawi to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Harambe publisher Gebrekidan was also questioned over similar stories.

Authorities escalated their crackdown on Awramba Times in November by suddenly activating an old case after the newspaper published the transcript of a radio interview of Ginbot 7 leader Nega discussing the U.S. presidential election and democracy in Ethiopia. A public prosecutor charged owner and Editor Dawit Kebede and Deputy Editor Wonderad Debretsion with “inciting the public through false rumors” in connection with a March interview with opposition leader Yacob Hailemariam. Local journalists interpreted the timing of the charge as retaliation for publication of the Nega interview.

The high-profile trial of pop music icon Tewodros Kassahun, a government critic, was also a sensitive topic. Kassahun, better known as Teddy Afro, was jailed in April in connection with a fatal 2006 hit-and-run accident, and his court appearances triggered rare, spontaneous public demonstrations of fans and supporters. Kassahun’s popular song “Jah Yasteseryal” had been a popular anthem of antigovernment protesters during the unrest that followed the 2005 election, according to local sources.

In May, in response to a cover story on Kassahun’s trial, which included interviews with his lawyer and fans, police blocked distribution of 10,000 copies of the entertainment magazine Enku and arrested the deputy editor and owner, Alemayehu Mahtemework, along with three staffers. Police alleged that the story could incite people to violence, and they detained the journalists for five days without charge. The copies were not returned until August.

In another twist, Federal High Court Judge Leul Gebremariam detained Mesfin Negash, editor-in-chief of the leading independent weekly Addis Neger, in August on contempt of court charges for publishing an interview with the singer’s lawyer. The lawyer was critical of Gebremariam’s handling of the Kassahun case. Negash was handed a suspended prison term, but the paper appealed the ruling and expressed concern about a “chilling effect” on media coverage of court cases. The appeal was pending in late year.

Critical coverage of influential business interests also posed dangers. Journalists with the English- and Amharic-language weekly Reporter, including Managing Editor Amare Aregawi, received anonymous threats over a series of investigative reports alleging that people close to billionaire Sheik Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi had mismanaged his investments, according to local journalists. On October 31, three men attacked Aregawi as he was walking near his office, bashing his head with a stone and leaving him unconscious, witnesses told CPJ. Three men were arrested, and their cases were pending in late year.

Aregawi, one of the country’s best-known journalists, also endured six days of imprisonment without charge in August in connection with a story about a labor dispute at a government-run brewery in the northern city of Gonder. His reporter, Teshome Niku, the author of the story, was briefly detained in June. Neither was formally charged.

“It’s becoming routine for journalists: You report something, then you go to the police station,” Awramba Times Deputy Editor Debretsion told CPJ in August. Zenawi saw things in a different light. “I don’t think the political space is in any way being constrained,” he told the Los Angeles Times that same month.

The foreign press corps continued to operate under a strictly enforced regimen of renewable one-year residency and accreditation permits—a government tactic that discouraged critical reporting. An insurgent conflict in the Ogaden region, human rights violations, and the ongoing food crisis were among the stories that received little attention among the resident foreign press. Reacting to Aregawi’s arrest, a foreign journalist who asked to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisals wrote in an e-mail to CPJ, “I wish I could do something without risking expulsion.”

The government actively targeted foreign-based media outlets. Beginning in January, CPJ received reports that the broadcast signals of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America (VOA) and the German public Deutsche Welle were being jammed. Reacting to the reports, an Ethiopian Information Ministry spokesman, Zemedkun Tekle, told VOA that the allegations were “utterly baseless.”

Authorities abruptly broke diplomatic ties with Qatar in April, accusing “the output of its media outlets” of “direct and indirect assistance to terrorist organizations,” according to an Ethiopian Foreign Ministry statement. In an interview with CPJ in November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahid Belay said the statement referred to the Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite station. The broadcaster had aired a critical series on the plight of civilians in Ogaden, where an insurgency was led by ethnic Somalis from the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front. No direct action was taken against Al-Jazeera, but diplomatic ties had not been restored by late year.

The Ogaden region remained virtually inaccessible to the media, and coverage was largely limited to reports by international groups that detailed human rights abuses and official government responses. The government’s censorship did not, however, stop the rebels from releasing statements on their Web site, which remained blocked in Ethiopia.

In August, Addis Ababa journalists said they could not access CPJ’s Web site, instead getting messages saying “the page cannot be displayed.” Bereket Simon, a senior adviser to Zenawi, told CPJ that the government had no policy of blocking Web sites. Simon said he had not received any complaints about blocked sites from Ethiopians, and he questioned whether such reports were credible. CPJ’s Web site remained blocked in late year. Dozens of foreign-based sites and blogs have been inaccessible to Ethiopian users on a recurring basis since 2005, according to the OpenNet Initiative, an academic partnership that studies Internet censorship issues.

Authorities asserted that they had made efforts to improve conditions for the media. Speaking to Newsweek in April, Zenawi said the government was replacing the repressive 1992 press law with a new press law “that we very much hope will put our legislation on par with the best in the world.” In fact, the new Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, while banning in principle censorship and pretrial detention of journalists, also maintained repressive criminal libel statutes and vague national security restrictions. The measure, which became law in December, increased fines for defamation to 100,000 birrs (US$10,000) and granted prosecutors discretion to summarily impound any publication deemed a threat to public order or national security. Local journalists, legal analysts, and most opposition lawmakers denounced the measure, saying it was adopted without full public consultation. Activists also challenged separate legislation that would set harsh restrictions on nongovernmental organizations operating in the country. That bill was pending in late year.

In a historic milestone, in June, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority approved the country’s first private, foreign-language radio station, Afro FM. Addis Fortune quoted a broadcasting authority official as saying that the station had been selected without competition after several other potential bidders did not submit applications. Afro FM was expected to broadcast in English, French, and Arabic and target an elite audience of middle-class Ethiopians and expatriates.

Two years into their detention, Eritrean journalists Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi and Saleh Idris Gama remained held in secret government custody. The two staff reporters of Eritrean state broadcaster Eri-TV were among dozens of “suspected terrorists” detained in late 2006 in the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. In an interview with CPJ in August, Simon said a court case was pending, but he declined to provide details about the reporters’ whereabouts, health, or legal status.

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khat…khat…khat

Banned in the United States, Canada, Uganda, and in some European countries, khat is exported to countries in the sub-region as well as the United Kingdom, which has been struggling to effect a ban. But despite its numerous economic advantages, the Ethiopian regime has frowned on the use of khat. The regional government of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has already banned the cultivation of the plant. They claim that khat has the potential of wrecking havoc to its social fabric.

This has given the impetus for raid on illegal khat operators in the East African country. Some operators are claimed to admit boys of school-going age into parlours where some engage in illicit trades of stolen goods. But a police clampdown in Addis Ababa neighbourhoods harbouring illegal operators have reportedly ignited much amusement as the stimulant leaf is readily available at most street corners in the capital.

The substance also known as celastrus edulis or catha edulis, a green stimulant leaf, popular in the horn of Africa and Yemen, is one of the main crops in the Hararge region of Ethiopia and said to fetch the agicultural sector millions of dollars. The crop earned Ethiopia some “sixty million US dollars between 1999 and 2000″ alone, Dechassa Lemessa of the United Nations Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia confirmed to the BBC in 2002. Local khat growers are among some of the well-to-do farmers.

The crop, which needs little water to survive in an area best known for its long droughts, is traditionally believed to contain medicinal properties against ailments like asthma and gonorrhoea among others. However, although not a benign stimulant, khat has been criticised for dealing serious psychotic consequences to long-term users as well as being carcinogenic and addictive. Khat-chewers admit that it can trigger some sort of paranoia and constipation.

In some parts of the region, khat serves as a substitute for alcohol, which is banned by Islam.

Tsegaye HaileMariam, Addis Ababa’s city council head of justice and legal affairs has, reportedly, expressed his desire to have khat banned in Ethiopia. This follows an arduous quest by some British politicians to ban khat use and sale in the Untited Kingdom by supporting legislation to make it a classified drug. The substance, imported from Ethiopia, is sold in supermarkets across the UK.

If the ban on Khat the UK is obtained, Ethiopia’s agricultural sector could lose a lot in revenue, however, should Ethiopia make cultivation illegal, other countries in the sub-region might cease the opportunity to increase their output. So far, the only choice for the Ethiopian government is a controlled cultivation and use of the plant which has seen its use rise across the country.

Ethiopia clamps down on khat dens

A crackdown has been launched in the Ethiopian capital on unlicensed parlours where boys and young men chew khat, a narcotic green leaf.

Addis Ababa city council has ordered raids on the backrooms where people also smoke shisha pipes and gamble.

Although khat is not banned, officials say boys skip school and steal to fund their pleasures in the parlours.

Other illegal activities such as trading stolen mobile phones are also reported to take place in khat dens.

The mild narcotic – which can cause users to experience excitement, euphoria and loss of appetite – is popular in parts of East Africa, especially Somalia, and Yemen.

During the clampdown in Addis Ababa, where the cheap narcotic has recently become popular with the young jobless, the BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt saw shisha pipes being smashed, while playing cards and khat were burned.

Police have been slapping notices on the doors of unlicensed khat parlours, although the leaf is still openly sold on the streets.

Culture

The police have no way of stopping people sitting by the side of the road and chewing the drug.

Addis Ababa city council’s head of justice and legal affairs Tsegaye HaileMariam made it fairly clear to our correspondent that he wished khat was a banned substance in Ethiopia.

However, exports of the drug bring in large amounts of foreign currency.

Muslims from the eastern Ethiopian city of Harar and the Somali region to the south-east chew the leaf as part of their culture.

In those areas, our correspondent says, the cream of society retires after lunch to rooms elegantly prepared with low couches and cushions to munch khat, drink sweet tea and smoke shisha pipes, while discussing the issues of the day.

She adds MPs, senior officials, security chiefs and university professors have invited her to join them in chewing khat.

But the use of the drug is now spreading to new areas of the country.

Khat — is it more coffee or cocaine?

Reporting from Washington — In the heart of the Ethiopian community here, a group of friends gathered after work in an office to chew on dried khat leaves before going home to their wives and children. Sweet tea and sodas stood on a circular wooden table between green mounds of the plant, a mild narcotic grown in the Horn of Africa.

As the sky grew darker the conversation became increasingly heated, flipping from religion to jobs to local politics. Suddenly, one of the men paused and turned in his chair. “See, it is the green leaf,” he said, explaining the unusually animated discussion as he pinched a few more leaves together and tossed them into his mouth.

For centuries the “flower of paradise” has been used legally in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a stimulant and social tonic.

But in the United States khat is illegal, and an increased demand for the plant in cities such as Washington and San Diego is leading to stepped up law enforcement efforts and escalating clashes between narcotics officers and immigrants who defend their use of khat as a time-honored tradition.

In the last few years, San Diego, which has a large Somali population, has seen an almost eight-fold increase in khat seizures. Nationally, the amount of khat seized annually at the country’s ports of entry has grown from 14 metric tons to 55 in about the last decade.

Most recently, California joined 27 other states and the federal government in banning the most potent substance in khat, and the District of Columbia is proposing to do the same.

“It is a very touchy subject. Some people see it like a drug; some people see it like coffee,” said Abdulaziz Kamus, president of the African Resource Center in Washington, D.C. “You have to understand our background and understand the significance of it in our community.”

Increased immigration from countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia has fueled the demand in this country and led to a cultural conflict.

“We grew up this way, you can’t just cut it off,” said a 35-year-old Ethiopian medical technician between mouthfuls of khat as he sat with his friends in the office.

In the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, khat is a regular part of life, often consumed at social gatherings or in the morning before work and by students studying for exams. Users chew the plant like tobacco or brew it as a tea. It produces feelings of euphoria and alertness that can verge on mania and hyperactivity depending on the variety and freshness of the plant.

But some experts are not convinced that its health and social effects are so benign. A World Health Organization report found that consumption can lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation and general malaise. The report also said that khat can be addictive and lead to psychological and social problems.

“It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee,” said Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine’.”

Khat comes from the leaves and stems of a shrub and must be shipped in overnight containers to preserve its potency. It contains the alkaloid cathinone, similar in chemical structure to amphetamine but about half as potent, according to Nasir Warfa, a researcher in cross cultural studies at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom determined last year that evidence does not warrant restriction of khat. In the United States, the substance has been illegal under federal law since 1993.

But the world supply of khat is exploding. Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya now rely on it as a major cash crop to bolster their economies. Khat is Ethiopia’s second largest export behind coffee.

Khat usage has grown so much in San Diego that Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) wrote a 2008 bill that added cathinone and its derivative cathine to California’s list of Schedule II drugs along with raw opium, morphine and coca leaves.

As of Thursday, Anderson’s bill made possession of khat a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of the leaf with intent to sell is a felony that carries a three-year maximum sentence in state prison.

In some cases, khat seizures have resulted in warnings and probation. In other instances, like New York City’s “Operation Somali Express” bust in 2006, which led to the seizure of 25 tons of khat worth an estimated $10 million, the perpetrators were sent to jail for up to 10 years.

“In my mind, [such arrests are] wrong,” said an Ethiopian-born cabdriver who was arrested in November in a Washington, D.C., khat bust and spoke on condition of anonymity. “They act like they know more about khat than I know.”

Khat leaves are sold attached to thick stalks or dried like tea leaves. A bundle of 40 leafed twigs costs about $28 to $50.

The plant’s cost has been linked to family problems, including domestic abuse, said Starlin Mohamud, a Somali immigrant who is completing a dissertation on khat at San Diego State University.

In fact, within the East African community in the U.S., there are many who welcome the khat restrictions.

“I have seen what it does,” Mohamud said. “Families who are trying to make ends meet on a daily basis cannot afford it. It just creates so many problems between a husband and wife to the point where a broken family is going to be the result.”

Not all lawmakers, however, support the increased efforts to prosecute khat sellers and users. California state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) called khat use “a minor problem that may be nonexistent and little understood” and voted against Anderson’s bill.

“The Legislature cannot continue to add on penalties and punishments filling up critically overcrowded prison system without weighing the consequences on how this will affect California,” she said.

Even though khat smuggling continues to grow in the United States, the level is nowhere near that of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine. Still, law enforcement officials worry that in a refined, stronger and more portable form, khat could spread outside the immigrant communities.

Reorting from Washington — In the heart of the Ethiopian community here, a group of friends gathered after work in an office to chew on dried khat leaves before going home to their wives and children. Sweet tea and sodas stood on a circular wooden table between green mounds of the plant, a mild narcotic grown in the Horn of Africa.

As the sky grew darker the conversation became increasingly heated, flipping from religion to jobs to local politics. Suddenly, one of the men paused and turned in his chair. “See, it is the green leaf,” he said, explaining the unusually animated discussion as he pinched a few more leaves together and tossed them into his mouth.

For centuries the “flower of paradise” has been used legally in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as a stimulant and social tonic.

But in the United States khat is illegal, and an increased demand for the plant in cities such as Washington and San Diego is leading to stepped up law enforcement efforts and escalating clashes between narcotics officers and immigrants who defend their use of khat as a time-honored tradition.

In the last few years, San Diego, which has a large Somali population, has seen an almost eight-fold increase in khat seizures. Nationally, the amount of khat seized annually at the country’s ports of entry has grown from 14 metric tons to 55 in about the last decade.

Most recently, California joined 27 other states and the federal government in banning the most potent substance in khat, and the District of Columbia is proposing to do the same.

“It is a very touchy subject. Some people see it like a drug; some people see it like coffee,” said Abdulaziz Kamus, president of the African Resource Center in Washington, D.C. “You have to understand our background and understand the significance of it in our community.”

Increased immigration from countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia has fueled the demand in this country and led to a cultural conflict.

“We grew up this way, you can’t just cut it off,” said a 35-year-old Ethiopian medical technician between mouthfuls of khat as he sat with his friends in the office.

In the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East, khat is a regular part of life, often consumed at social gatherings or in the morning before work and by students studying for exams. Users chew the plant like tobacco or brew it as a tea. It produces feelings of euphoria and alertness that can verge on mania and hyperactivity depending on the variety and freshness of the plant.

But some experts are not convinced that its health and social effects are so benign. A World Health Organization report found that consumption can lead to increased blood pressure, insomnia, anorexia, constipation and general malaise. The report also said that khat can be addictive and lead to psychological and social problems.

“It is not coffee. It is definitely not like coffee,” said Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It is the same drug used by young kids who go out and shoot people in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is something that gives you a heightened sense of invincibility, and when you look at those effects, you could take out the word ‘khat’ and put in ‘heroin’ or ‘cocaine’.”

Khat comes from the leaves and stems of a shrub and must be shipped in overnight containers to preserve its potency. It contains the alkaloid cathinone, similar in chemical structure to amphetamine but about half as potent, according to Nasir Warfa, a researcher in cross cultural studies at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom determined last year that evidence does not warrant restriction of khat. In the United States, the substance has been illegal under federal law since 1993.

But the world supply of khat is exploding. Countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya now rely on it as a major cash crop to bolster their economies. Khat is Ethiopia’s second largest export behind coffee.

Khat usage has grown so much in San Diego that Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) wrote a 2008 bill that added cathinone and its derivative cathine to California’s list of Schedule II drugs along with raw opium, morphine and coca leaves.

As of Thursday, Anderson’s bill made possession of khat a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Possession of the leaf with intent to sell is a felony that carries a three-year maximum sentence in state prison.

In some cases, khat seizures have resulted in warnings and probation. In other instances, like New York City’s “Operation Somali Express” bust in 2006, which led to the seizure of 25 tons of khat worth an estimated $10 million, the perpetrators were sent to jail for up to 10 years.

“In my mind, [such arrests are] wrong,” said an Ethiopian-born cabdriver who was arrested in November in a Washington, D.C., khat bust and spoke on condition of anonymity. “They act like they know more about khat than I know.”

Khat leaves are sold attached to thick stalks or dried like tea leaves. A bundle of 40 leafed twigs costs about $28 to $50.

The plant’s cost has been linked to family problems, including domestic abuse, said Starlin Mohamud, a Somali immigrant who is completing a dissertation on khat at San Diego State University.

In fact, within the East African community in the U.S., there are many who welcome the khat restrictions.

“I have seen what it does,” Mohamud said. “Families who are trying to make ends meet on a daily basis cannot afford it. It just creates so many problems between a husband and wife to the point where a broken family is going to be the result.”

Not all lawmakers, however, support the increased efforts to prosecute khat sellers and users. California state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) called khat use “a minor problem that may be nonexistent and little understood” and voted against Anderson’s bill.

“The Legislature cannot continue to add on penalties and punishments filling up critically overcrowded prison system without weighing the consequences on how this will affect California,” she said.

Even though khat smuggling continues to grow in the United States, the level is nowhere near that of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine. Still, law enforcement officials worry that in a refined, stronger and more portable form, khat could spread outside the immigrant communities.

In Israel, a pill known as hagigat (essentially Hebrew for “party khat”), has emerged on the club scene.

“I don’t think we are going to see American teenagers chewing the plant,” said Phil Garn, a U.S. postal inspector in San Diego. “But based on what I saw with meth and how it spread across the country, I can absolutely see how khat in a refined form could be a major problem.”

Birtukan falls ill from hunger strike since Monday

 

Ethiomedia | January 1, 2009

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia’s leading opposition leader, Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, has fallen ill from refusing to eat since her arrest on Monday, reliable sources have told Ethiomedia.

Doctors are being sent to Kaliti Prison in the suburbs of the Ethiopian capital to treat Ms. Birtukan, president of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP – Andenet). Regarded as a unifying force of the ethnically-fragmented country, the arrest of the charismatic opposition leader has sparked protests and condemnations by Ethiopians around the world.

US concern over Ethiopia opposition arrest

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — The US embassy in Addis Ababa on Wednesday voiced concern over the fate of an opposition leader who was jailed after her pardon from a life sentence was revoked.

Birtukan Midekssa, head of the Unity for Democracy Justice party, irked the regime when she reportedly claimed during a recent visit to Europe that she had never voiced remorse or acknowledged any mistake to obtain her pardon in 2007.

“The United States is concerned about the government of Ethiopia’s arrest of Unity for Democracy and Justice Party leader Birtukan Midekssa,” the embassy’s information officer Darragh Paradiso told AFP.

“We are particularly concerned by reports that Birtukan’s pardon has been revoked and she has begun a life sentence in prison.”

The 35-year-old woman, who was detained with dozens of opposition figures and supporters in the aftermath of disputed 2005 elections, was last week given a three-day ultimatum by the authorities to confirm or deny the reports.

The justice ministry announced on Tuesday that she has resumed serving her life term.

The United States, a staunch Ethiopian ally and the country’s top aid contributor, called for more political freedom.

“A vibrant opposition, independent media, and a robust civil society are essential elements of any democracy,” Paradiso said.

“The United States looks to the government of Ethiopia to provide the political space necessary for them to function. Steps that appear to criminalise dissent impede progress on democratisation,” he added.

Birtukan’s party made its most spectacular electoral gains ever in the 2005 polls and cried foul over reported fraud, claiming it was robbed of victory by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party.

The ensuing unrest left close to 200 civilians dead and drew international condemnation.

Ethiopian Police Re-Arrest Opposition Leader Mideksa

Bloomberg

By Jason McLure

(Corrects attribution in sixth paragraph.)

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopian federal police re-arrested opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa a year after she was released on a pardon following her arrest during the country’s disputed 2005 elections.

Mideksa, a leader of the now-dissolved Coalition for Unity and Democracy, was taken into custody today, said Temesgen Zewde, a lawmaker, who is a member of Mideksa’s new party, Unity for Democracy and Justice.

“She has been arrested,” Zewde said in an interview in the capital, Addis Ababa. “No charges have been made public yet. We don’t know exactly where she is being held.”

Mideksa was arrested after refusing to acknowledge that she had requested a pardon that led to her release from jail in July 2007, said Bereket Simon, a spokesman for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. She and dozens of other opposition leaders were initially jailed following the 2005 elections and sentenced to life in prison following a May 2007 trial on treason charges.

Security forces killed at least 193 protesters in Addis Ababa in the aftermath of the 2005 elections. Mideksa was jailed along with 126 other opposition leaders, journalists, and activists after disputing government claims of victory in the ballot.

Her release along with 37 others in July of 2007 came after the opposition leaders signed a letter admitting “mistakes committed both individually and collectively,” according to an Amnesty International report.

Life Sentence

Simon suggested Mideksa could again face life in prison.

“She said she didn’t ask for a pardon and the government tried to advise her that she has been freed from jail because of the requested pardon,” Simon said, in a phone interview from Addis Ababa. “She didn’t budge. Technically and legally the verdict has to be implemented.”

Mideksa and other leaders were released in two pardons authorized by Zenawi in July and August of 2007 after mediation by Ethiopian elders. Some opposition leaders, including former Addis Ababa mayor-elect Berhanu Nega, have chosen exile in the U.S. and Europe. Mideksa stayed on in Ethiopia and had planned to contest the 2010 national elections with her new party.

A lawyer and former judge, Mideksa has drawn support from Oromos and Amharas, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups. Zenawi’s government, which has ruled Ethiopia since 1991, is dominated my members of the Tigray ethnic group.

Fifteen members of another opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, were arrested in late October and early November and accused of supporting the separatist Oromo Liberation Front. The move comes as Ethiopia’s parliament is set to approve a new law that would effectively outlaw most non-governmental groups from promoting human rights, democracy, or conflict resolution.

Bertukan arrested, Prof. Mesfin treated violently

EThioMedia.Com 

SEATTLE – Security forces on Monday arrested Ms. Bertukan Mideksa, leader of the fledgling opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP), sources said.

“Civilian clothed security picked up the opposition leader at 2:00PM Monday, after roughing up 80-year-old human rights activist Professor Mesfin Weldemariam,” according to Ethiomedia sources.

Birtukan, who is entangled in a bitter controversy with the EPRDF led government over the content of her release after the infamous treason trial of 2005, refused to recant statements she made during a working visit to Sweden last month.

In an open letter released on Friday she maintained that her release from prison could not be reduced to a plain pardon as is being disingenuously alleged by the EPRDF led government ,but is rather a complex outcome of a protracted negotiation between her party and the government mediated by elders.

The pardon board convened an emergency meeting on Saturday to rubber stamp EPRDF’s pronouncement, and civilian-clothed security agents picked her up from Prison Fellowship’s office today, where she and Professor Mesfin had gone at the behest of elders who are once again mediating between the EPRDF and the opposition.

 

Group says ‘arrest Bertukan’

LONDON (Ethiomedia) – Ms. Bertukan Mideksa, an opposition leader Ethiopians regard as a unifying force of their ethnically-fragmented country, may be sent to Kaliti, a notorious prison where the 34-year-old former judge spent nearly two years before her release last year.

A Clemency Board controlled by the ruling party on Saturday decided that the leader of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP – Andinet) should be arrested for allegedly failing to give “adequate response” to police.

On Sunday, www.abugidainfo.com, a pro-democracy website based in Boston, broke the news that the Clemency Board was after the arrest of Bertukan, the first female leader of a major opposition party in the history of Ethiopia. The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is incriminating Ms. Bertukan for telling support groups in Europe last November that she and other leaders of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) were released thanks to mediation efforts by a group of prominent elders called shimagle.

The government wants the opposition leader to acknowledge that her release was dependent on taking responsibilities for the violence that followed the 2005 elections, and posting an apology to the government in exchange for clemency.

 

If the head of state, President Girma Woldegiorgis, approved the Clemency Board’s request for the arrest of the opposition leader, Bertukan would end up behind bars, the report that appeared in Amharic on AbugidaInfo warned. Observers say the symbolic head of state has no executive power, and he would approve whatever the Clemency Board passed as a decision.

Police last week gave Bertukan a three-day ultimatum either to recant her remarks or go to jail for life. She said she had committed no wrongdoing.

“The relentless campaign of fear and intimidation targets not only me but also all law-abiding activists,” Bertukan warned in a statement.

Since the last several days, Ms. Bertukan has been the target of vitriolic attacks by the state-run media, while her daily life has been haunted by government security agents who check her movement in four cars.

Bertukan and her party, UDJP enjoy tremendous support at home and abroad.

Despite the threat of arrest in the spy-infested society, UDJP was able to draw over 5,000 enthusiastic supporters to its first ever meeting in Addis recently.

Following news of the government campaign of intimidation, Bertukan was able to draw a swift show of solidarity from the powerful association of UDJP support groups in North America.

The Zenawi regime, which has deliberately fragmented Ethiopia under an apartheid-look-alike system of misrule since 1991, is often denounced by human rights organizations as one of the most ruthless regimes in Africa.

UDJ President Birtukan Arrested

ECADF News, Audio and Video

Ethiopian Current Affairs Discussion Forum – News, Audio and Video

UDJ President Birtukan Mideksa was arrested by security officials on Sunday, December 29. “Civilian clothed security picked up UDJ president Birtukan Midekasa around 2 PM today after roughing up the elderly veteran human rights activist Professor Mesfin Weldemariam,” according to sources.

Birtukan, who is entangled in a bitter controversy with the EPRDF led government over the content of her release after the infamous treason trial of 2005, refused to recant statements she made during a working visit to Sweden last month. In an open letter released on Friday she maintained that her release from prison could not be reduced to a plain pardon as is being disingenuously alleged by the EPRDF led government ,but is rather a complex outcome of a protracted negotiation between her party and the government mediated by elders.

The pardon board convened an emergency meeting on Saturday to rubber stamp EPRDF’s pronouncement, and civilian clothed security agents picked her up from Prison Fellowship’s office today; where she and Professor Mesfin had gone at the behest of elders who are once again mediating between the EPRDF and the opposition.