Friday, July 20


I never thought I'd say this, but what a wonderful time to be in Ethiopia!

The transformation in the spirit of the people over the past few days is incredible. Everyone is talking about their coming release and newpapers are printing their photos again (I wish I could scan and attach Tuesday's copy of "Abbi Weekly", featuring Dr. Berhanu flashing the double V sign and the faces of the other leaders on a background of the national colors but, of course, these sold out by noon in the city).

What a joy to overhear political discussions in the streets of Addis!

Wednesday, July 18

The Things They Can't Suppress...

Everyone in Addis is talking about yesterday's article in the Ethiopian Herald, in which a letter, admitting guilt for the post-election violence and supposedly signed by the prisoners, was printed. I was initially worried that people would believe these lies, but was instead pleasantly suprised. On the streets, and in taxis and cafes, people are emphatically denying that the leaders would ever admit to crimes not committed. It seems these latest attempts to defame the characters of those in prison has only served to boost public support and admiration. (opps!)

(Also: They may be able to silence us over here, but the international bloggers are busy. The Huffington Post, MyDD and Daily Kos have all posted a story by blogger Robert Naiman, encouraging people to take action here

Tuesday, July 17


Wow. It is not often that I am shocked by the workings of this government anymore, but today they have managed to do it again.

Today they have launched a massive disinformation campaign, with the intent of discrediting the prisoners before they are released. Bereket, ENA and the Ethiopian Herald have been suprisingly busy since yesterday's sentences were handed down; unfortunately for them, there are too many of us who know the truth and are determined to make it known...

Monday, July 16

Life In Prison

The courtroom was packed once again, and there seemed to be even more ferenji observers than usual. It seemed especially cruel to keep everyone in suspense for hours, considering the nature of the session, but wait we did--though the delay was not without its comic moments (when, for example, the phones of the plainclothes spies rang repeatedly, exposing them at once since the rest of us had to leave our phones, keys etc with the guards at the door!)

The prisoners were finally brought in after a 2.5 hour delay and the judges arrived a few minutes before noon; all defendants (and judges) were present. The judges concluded that ‘because most of the defendants are well educated and therefore able to identify the legal consequences of their actions, their sentence must reflect the severity of their decisions and actions’; however, as the defendants are charged with attempt to overthrow the Constitution (rather than completion of the act, which would permit the sentence of capital punishment) the 38 defendants (including those tried in absentia) were sentenced to life in prison.

Of the 9 who had chosen to defend, it was announced that their defense attorney 'had not proven relevant extenuating circumstances’: Berhanu Alemayou,Wedneh Jedi, Melaku Oncha and Mesfin Jabesa received 18 years imprisonment; Abiyot Wekjira ad Daniel Berihun received 15 years; Wenaksegad Zeleke was handed a 3 year sentence, and Dawit Fasil was sentenced to 1 year and six months. All defendants who received a lesser sentence were also denied the right to participate in politics for 5 years.

Both of the agencies charged were order to cease all operations—Serkalim Publishing Agency was ordered to pay a fine of ETB 120 000 and Sisaye Publishing, ETB 100 000.

Dr. Berhanu appeared particularly disgusted with the sentences and got up to leave the courtroom but, for the most part, the prisoners and family members seemed to be expecting nothing less and took the news accordingly. The prisoners left with their usual courage and deliberate cheer, exchanging grins and the “V” sign with friends and family members as they passed.

The road back from Kaliti to the city center was lined with more police than usual, and some were in full riot gear (masks and shields).

(Today’s session was nothing less than infuriating: To hear each Article of the Penal Code invoked as if it actually had meaning in this country, and to have to listen to the descriptions of post election violence as if the Independent Commission itself hadn’t ruled that government forces were responsible for the excessive force that lead to the deaths of 193 innocent civilians was too much… It makes one ill to witness such blatant manipulation of the truth and mockery of justice in a federal institution!

How long can this go on?!)

Saturday, July 14

Antethesis of Justice

Diplomatic Etiquette:

More than two weeks ago, human rights bill HR2003 was postponed for mark-up—--the result of dubious American attempts at negotiation with one of the world’s most brutal dictators. The US State Department has since further neutralized their language, and the press is treating the negotiations as nothing more than the claims of those in captivity (despite the fact that the initial leak to the Washington Post was reported to have come from US state officials). The momentum that was building over the past month seems to have come to a complete standstill; yet today, the prisoners remain in Kaliti, while the prosecution demands their execution.

Of course, there are rumors swirling—Meles is trying to preserve the ‘independence of the Court’ and the US is giving him the space to do so, provided the prisoners are released immediately following the sentencing. Fine; however, it is my opinion that, even if this is true, it does not excuse their shamefully submissive conduct in the meantime. Why the tiptoeing around? Since when has it become the responsibility of a free and democratic nation to cater to the sensibilities of such a wanton violator of human rights?

Regardless of what is being negotiated in private bewteen these two countries, I am appalled by the continued public observance of the diplomatic etiquette that enables oppressors to escape the consequences of their actions.

On Monday, we will enter the courtroom, clinging to the hope that the sentencing is all part of the larger geopolitical game. But Meles has proven on countless occasions that he can not be trusted, and any concessions made by him must be regarded accordingly. He has already failed to deliver on his promise of releasing the prisoners with the postponment of the bill—why then, will he not balk at these obligations once more after the sentence is handed down? It is obvious that he does not possess the integrity required to keep his word, and therefore should not be regarded by diplomats as a man of such principle.

Monday, July 9

“Good luck!” called my driver as I got out in front of the Federal High Court. We had never discussed politics previously, but today he asked who I support. When I replied, he broke into a grin. “Today is a big day,” he said. “Tell them, good luck. We are with them. ”

I got out into the pouring rain and made my way through the mud to where family members and journalists were already gathered. The entrance process took far longer than usual today, and the guards were deliberately more rough in their searches.

It was difficult to find a place to sit and by the time the session began there was not a single seat remaining.

The prisoners entered soon after, looking well, and assumed their usual poise of courage, strength and defiance. The prosecutors followed, and then the judges. (Mohammed was absent and it appeared, for a moment, like the usual delay tactics). It was annouced that the prosecutor would give his closing statement and that the nine who had chosen to defend would have the opportunity to present their defense in three days time (as they requested a copy of the closing prosecuting statement in order to respond).

The prosecutor began—citing the charges that remained and the penalties assigned to them according to the Criminal Code: the 2nd and 3rd charges, we were told, carry 15 years imprisonment and 10-15 years, respectively. The 5th charge carries between 5-25 years imprisonment or, depending on the severity of the crime, life imprisonment or capital punishment; the 1st charge is also punishable by the latter.

He demanded that because none of the defendants had shown any remorse for the ‘crimes’ committed in 2005 , all must receive the maximum sentence—death.

For some reason, just hearing those expected words spoken out loud came as a shock. There was complete silence in the courtroom, except for the wife of one of the prisoners, who let out a strained laugh (and was immediately thrown out of the courtroom). The prosecution concluded that the agencies charged should also receive the maximum penalty of a Birr 500 000 fine and full closure.

Then we all filed out back into the rain.

Monday, July 2


Meles is mobilizing the army "in case of an Eritrean invasion"--I hate to say it, but the propaganda around here sounds similar to the stuff that ushered us into the Somalian invasion. Yikes.

The next court session is still scheduled for a week from today.

There is also supposed to be another session three days later, in which the prosecuter will appeal the charges that were dropped.