Ethiopian authorities say opposition Union for Democracy and Justice party chief
Birtukan Mideksa could spend the rest of her life in jail after refusing to
acknowledge that she asked for the pardon that led to her freedom last year. She
was among dozens of opposition leaders jailed in the violent aftermath of the
Horn of Africa nation's 2005 elections and later convicted of
|A leading Ethiopian opposition figure has been imprisoned, and faces life behind
bars after a pardon she was granted last year was revoked. VOA correspondent
Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports opposition parties charge the arrest was
Birtukan, a charismatic young lawyer and former judge, was
widely reported to have made comments during a recent European tour denying that
she had asked to be pardoned. The reports are said to have infuriated senior
government officials, who say those convicted in connection with the 2005
protests were freed only after signing a document admitting guilt and asking to
But government spokesman Bereket Simon, in a telephone
interview, called Birtukan's imprisonment a simple matter of law in view of her
violation of the terms of her pardon.
found guilty after she was accused or charged for several crimes, and then a
(court) ruled she committed a crime and sentenced her to imprisonment. Now the
government, after she asked for pardon, granted her a conditional pardon, so she
said I didn't ask for any pardon, and it's simple. The decision of the court
will be applied, and basically it's a legal matter."
Other leaders of the Union for Democracy and Justice met Tuesday
to discuss the way forward with their leader facing life in prison. The head of
the party's parliamentary delegation, Temesgen Zewde, says the first step will
be a legal challenge, since Birtukan's arrest appears to violate the terms of
the pardon proclamation.
"There should have
been a written notice her pardon was going to be revoked. She should have been
given at least 20 days to respond, and that response should have been submitted
to the pardon board. All through these last couple weeks she has been harassed,
detained by police, roughed up and people with her roughed up and taken to
prison., that is not the procedure stated in the proclamation."
Temesgen accused Ethiopia's ruling party of abusing the rule of
law in an attempt to create a one party state.
The rule of law as we see it today is interpreted to suit the
interest, the political interest of the ruling party. It can be respected when
it is appropriate and fits the situation and the interests of the ruling party.
And it can be violated when it does not fit.
Government spokesman Bereket rejected Temesgen's charge,
describing the arrest as a technical matter with no political
Birtukan's imprisonment changes Ethiopia's political
landscape a year and a half before the next scheduled parliamentary elections.
Her Union for Democracy and Justice is an outgrowth of the Coalition for Unity
and Democracy, which was a major force in the disputed 2005 elections.
Birtukan was widely seen as the opposition's most charismatic figure and
a prime ministerial hopeful, with potential to garner support among members of
her Oromo ethnic group, which is Ethiopia's largest.
follows the arrest two months ago of more than a dozen members of another
opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement. Those arrested,
including the party's general secretary, were accused of supporting a separatist
group known as the Oromo Liberation Front. (Signed)