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Ethiopia: Detainees denied bail – lawyers prevented from meeting the accused

Bail has again been denied to the 131 government opponents and critics detained by Ethiopian authorities.

Meeting on 4 January, the Second Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court categorically rejected the victims’ appeal to be released on bail. Defence lawyers have boycotted proceedings for the second time, complaining of being prevented from meeting their clients who, if convicted, face sentences ranging from three years in prison to the death penalty. Opposition leaders and supporters, journalists, teachers, trade unionists and charity workers are among the detainees facing charges including high treason, genocide, outrage against the constitution and the constitutional order and obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers. The trial includes Mr Kassahun Kebede and Mrs Mulunesh Ababayehu, chairman of EI affiliate ETA’s Addis Ababa branch and activist member in the ETA Women Wing respectively. In total, 58 teachers and ETA members are still imprisoned. For most of them, the charges are still unknown. Many of the detained teachers have been imprisoned in jails far from their families; Mulunesh has been imprisoned in Zuai (154 km from Addis Ababa) where her case will be heard. According to Ethiopian law, she should have been made to appear in court in Addis Ababa where the claimed offence is alleged to have occurred . Many of the detained male teachers’ wives have no earnings, being dependent on the incomes of their husbands. With ETA unable to offer financial support as its assets have been frozen since April 1993, the detentions are creating a strain on many families. Students’ protests, demanding the release of those detained, have spread to most schools and colleges in Addis Ababa. Students also oppose the act of surrounding schools by armed security forces and soldiers. In Addis Ababa, the Federal police and other security forces broke into school compounds and indiscriminately beat and injured a large number of students and teachers. It is reported that many school girls were severely injured. Following the denial of bail, hearings have been adjourned to 23 February 2006. EI strongly encourages all affiliates and partners to continue sending letters of protest to the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, via the Ethiopian Embassy in your country or region, and to alert your foreign ministries about these unfair political trials.