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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Ethiopian opposition figure has been imprisoned, and faces life behind bars after a pardon she was granted last year was revoked.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 politically-motivated.
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 treason.


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 be pardoned.

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.

///BEREKET ACT///

"She was 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."

///END ACT///

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.

///TEMESGEN ACT///

"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."

///END ACT///

Temesgen accused Ethiopia's ruling party of abusing the rule of law in an attempt to create a one party state.

///2nd TEMESGEN ACT///

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.

///END ACT///

Government spokesman Bereket rejected Temesgen's charge, describing the arrest as a technical matter with no political implications.

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.

Her imprisonment 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)

The president of Red Sea and World Press Publishing talked to Minia of the Tigrigna service about the political influence of the career of Dr. Jordan Gebre-Medhin, a member of the African studies faculty of Northwestern University, who died in early December.

Jordan was the author of the 1989 book, "Peasants and Nationalism: Critique of Ethiopian Studies," which many believe fueled the struggle for Eritrea’s independence. The book was the first major challenge to claims casting Eritrea as a subsidiary of Ethiopia, its neighbor in northeast Africa. The book provoked heated debate among political factions and drew favorable reviews from other scholars. Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Kassahun Chekol, his publisher and longtime friend of Jordan, called him an intellectual powerhouse, a committed nationalist and a dedicated pan-Africanist. The Boston Globe published an article on its web site calling him “a towering teacher and the first faculty member in Northeastern's University African-American studies department to earn tenure.” Dr. Tseggai Isaac, a political scientist at the University of Missouri, also praised Jordan’s contributions to Eritrea and to political science. "He was a gentle giant, an affable personality with dignity, yet kind and gracious," said Dr.Tseggai.

Jordan passed away in the first week of December at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was 64.


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