Monday, January 09, 2006

Daniel and Fellow Political Prisoners are Denied Bail!

JAILED ETHIOPIAN ACTIVISTS REFUSED BAIL
By Rosamond Hutt, Community Newswire

A leading British-based international development charity has condemned the actions of an Ethiopian court today after two anti-poverty activists were refused bail.

ActionAid made an appeal for the release of Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie after they were held for more than a month before being charged with conspiring to overthrow the Ethiopian constitution.

The men were among a number of civil society activists taken into custody in early November. Around 125 other people were arrested and are also facing this charge and up to six additional charges.

Mr Bekele is a lawyer and heads ActionAid's policy team in Ethiopia and Mr Demessie is executive director of Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE).

ActionAid insists that Mr Bekele and Mr Demessie have done nothing illegal, nor were they involved in any unconstitutional activities.

Fikre Zewdie, director of ActionAid Ethiopia, said: "We are extremely disappointed that Daniel and Netsanet have been refused bail. Their continued detention is a travesty of justice.

"There exists no basis at law or on the facts for the denial of their right to bail. The public prosecutor opposed bail and disappointingly, this was not challenged by the judge today.

"If necessary, Daniel and Netsanet will fight their case vigorously in court. But we have said from the start that there is no sustainable case against them and the charges should be dropped."

The two activists attracted the attention of the Ethiopian authorities while campaigning for civil society monitoring of the national elections in May, demanding amendments to a new Ethiopian law on non-governmental organisations and helping to organise Ethiopia's part of the Global Call to Action against Poverty.

Since their arrest, the men been denied their constitutional entitlement to bail and have had very limited access to their lawyers.

ActionAid is also concerned that their case could be prejudiced unless the men are tried separately from the other accused activists.

Mr Zewdie said Mr Bekele and Mr Demessie are dedicated to eradicating poverty and injustice through non-violent social change and had no case to answer.

"They have worked to improve the lives of Ethiopia's poorest people through legitimate social activism. This kind of activity is protected by the constitution and cannot be characterised as anti-state."

London-based ActionAid is one of the UK's largest development charities and is currently working with more than five million of the world's poorest people to provide access to vital services and fight poverty. Visit www.actionaid.org for more information.

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