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Ethiopia’s regime must reveal fate of political prisoners

Amnesty International

Amnesty International today called on the Ethiopian government to immediately disclose the names and fate of more than 35 people believed to be held by its security forces on political grounds since 24 April.

Additional arrests have reportedly been carried out over the past several days and sources in the country have told Amnesty International that further arrests are expected.

Many are believed to have been arrested for their alleged involvement in planning a thwarted attack on the government, but others appear to have been arrested for their own or family members’ peaceful political opposition to the government. Amongst the 35 is an 80-year-old grandfather in urgent need of medical care.

“We are very concerned about the fate of those arrested,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

“Several may have been detained solely for their family ties to men who have expressed political opposition to the government. They should be released immediately. Any others should be charged with a recognizable criminal offense or released. All should have immediate access to their families, lawyers and any medical care they may require.”

Amnesty International said that while protection of national security is a responsibility to which governments rightfully attach high priority, it cannot be used to justify human rights violations.

The organization Amnesty International believes that several of those detained have been arrested solely on the basis of family ties with members of Ginbot 7, an opposition group established in the aftermath of the disputed 2005 elections.

In addition to General Tefera Mamo and other former military officers who have recently been detained, Amnesty International has confirmed that at least one opposition party member and family members of opposition party leaders have also been detained. These include Getu Worku, the cousin of opposition figure Berhanu Nega.

Also detained is Tsige Habte-Mariam, the 80-year-old father of another well-known opposition figure and former prisoner of conscience, now in exile, Andargachew Tsige. Tsige Habte-Mariam is diabetic and has recently had heart surgery. He is in need of urgent medical care.

Ato Melaku Teferra has also been detained. He is a former CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) prisoner who served 20 months in Kaliti prison, and is currently a member of the UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice) party, led by Birtukan Mideksa, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Many or all of those recently arrested are believed to be held in Maekalawi Prison in Addis Ababa, though the government has not yet confirmed this. Amnesty International is not aware that the government has provided any specific information to family members about the whereabouts of their relatives or their conditions of detention.

Amnesty International said that due to the secret nature of their detention, they are at significant risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

After an initial court appearance last week, those detained were remanded into custody for 14 additional days to allow for further investigation and charges to be filed. Amnesty International expects their next court appearance to take place on or about 12 May 2009.

“Peaceful opposition to the government is not a crime – and being related to someone who opposes the government is not a crime. The Ethiopian government must not detain, harass or intimidate opposition party members or their family members in the course of ongoing security operations. This will only serve to exacerbate an already tense political climate pervading the country,” said Michelle Kagari.

Note to editors:

Ethiopia’s human rights record deteriorated after the disputed 2005 elections, when at least 187 demonstrators were killed and members of the political opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), journalists and civil society activists were arrested and tried for treason. While some of these defendants were acquitted, others were released and pardoned in 2007 and 2008, after signing a letter of apology. In December 2008, Birtukan Mideksa, leader of the UDJ Party was re-arrested and her life sentence reinstated after she discussed details of the pardon process at a meeting in Sweden.

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