In a long-running trial in Ethiopia, the anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie are among the last few defendants still trying to establish their innocence in court, after they declined to sign a document which might have secured their early release.
Today the Ethiopian government pardoned 38 convicted prisoners - mainly opposition politicians and some journalists - who had signed a document admitting using "unconstitutional means to change the constitutionally established government functions" following the 2005 elections. Most of the 38 to be freed were sentenced to life imprisonment four days ago (on Monday 16 July).
Daniel Bekele, 40, policy manager of ActionAid Ethiopia, and Netsanet Demissie, 29, general manager of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia, decided not to sign, arguing that their activities in 2005 were entirely legal and served not to undermine but to protect and promote Ethiopia’s constitutional order. They wish to establish this in court and secure their acquittal.
The two were detained in November 2005 alongside opposition political leaders and charged in January 2006 with the crime of “outrage against the constitution and the constitutional order”. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders.
Represented by their advocate, Col Mengistu Hailemariam, the two appeared at the Supreme Court in Addis Ababa yesterday (Thursday 19 July) to appeal against the High Court ruling that in the wake of the prosecution evidence, they did have a case to answer.
Daniel and Netsanet argued that their work in monitoring the 2005 parliamentary election and their involvement in the civil society initiative to resolve the post-electoral political impasse were both positive contributions performed in a peaceful and constitutional manner.
After hearing Daniel and Netsanet’s petition, which the public prosecutor opposed on procedural grounds, the Supreme Court adjourned until next Tuesday (24 July).
The two anti-poverty campaigners expect to begin presenting defence evidence in the High Court towards the end of July – unless the Supreme Court has by then already ruled in their favour.