12 December 2012

Ethiopian Court Slaps Lengthy Terms Against Opposition Leaders

Addis Ababa — Ethiopia's Federal High Court has handed out lengthy jail terms against two opposition figures who were convicted of having links with proscribed terrorist group, the Oromo Libration Front (OLF).

Activists' poster protesting about the detention of Olbana Lelisa, a leader in the Oromo People's Congress party (OPC), and Bekele Gerba, the deputy Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM)

The Federal High Court said the two opposition leaders were members of the OLF and were accused of terrorism-related offences, including recruiting students to the banned rebel group and using the membership in legally recognized opposition political party as a disguise.

Olbana Lelisa, a leader in the Oromo People's Congress party (OPC), a legally recognized opposition political party was sentenced to 13 years and Bekele Gerba, the deputy Chairman of another legally recognized opposition group, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

"It is absolute injustice," Bekele told reporters after the court ruling.

Seven others were also given prison terms ranging from three years to 12 years for "receiving training in camps in Kenya and being involved in gunfights with Ethiopian soldiers".

Opposition officials are not immediately available for comments.

Bekele Gerba,and Olbana Lelisa, were arrested in August 2011 after they meet a team from the Amnesty International human rights group in Addis Ababa.

On the same day the opposition politicians were arrested, the Ethiopian government ordered the Amnesty International delegation to leave country.

Following the arrests, Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International's deputy programme director for Africa said: at the time: "The arrests are indicative of the constant harassment of opposition politicians and severe stifling of freedom of expression in the country".

Right groups accuse the Horn of Africa nation of mass arrests against Oromo opposition politicians, using the allegations of belonging to the terror designated OLF as a pretext to silence dissent.

According to Amnesty International, since March 2011, Ethiopian authorities have detained at least 108 opposition members and six journalists for alleged links with terrorist groups such as the OLF and ONLF.

The detainees have been charged with terror related offences under the controversial Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

Additionally, six journalists, two opposition party members and one human rights activist all living in exile, were also charged in absentia under the vague and broadly defined terrorism law which rights groups argue was a tool designed to silence dissent, and to target members of the ethnic Oromo opposition. Addis Ababa denies this allegation.

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