Birtukan still on hunger strike in solitary confinement

January 2nd, 2009 | by addis portal |

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia’s leading opposition leader, Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, has fallen ill from refusing to eat since her arrest on Monday, reliable sources have informed Ethiomedia. There were requests to send a medical personnel to Kaliti Prison in the suburbs of the Ethiopian capital to check on the health condition of the 35-year-old opposition leader.

The Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) has reiterated in a statement that the party was 100 percent behind its “faultless” leader.

On Thursday Kaliti Prison authorities had Birtukan in their office, though details were not known except that the opposition leader had turned down requests to stop her hunger strike.

Since no visit to prison is allowed from Monday to Friday, UDJ officials are waiting patiently for the weekend to see their party leader. They also said UDJ legal experts were exploring the legal system to be able to resolve the crisis with the government that has sentenced Birtukan to life in prison.

Solitary Confinement

Birtukan is being held in a solitary confinement with a history. The cell where she is behind held was also a room for one army major who in 2001 murdered TPLF’s top security minister, Kinfe Gebremedhin.

The opposition party said in a statement that the “Ethiopian people must note that the illegal measures taken by the government against the Chairperson of UDJ go beyond Birtukan as an individual and are aimed at the existence of our party.”

UDJ also said it was counting on the support of the Ethiopian people in the struggle for the reign of democracy and the rule of law in the country.

In a separate development, UDJ has dismissed a local newspaper report as “out of truth.”

Asking in connection with the arrest of Ms. Britukan, Awramba Times had wrongly quoted UDJ official Dr. Hailu Araya as saying, “It has been pointed out to us that this is the private affair of W/t Birtukan and concerns her and her alone.”

Dr Hailu described the error as “deliberate,” adding it was not the first time that Awramba Times had tried to misinform the public about Andenet party.

Irrespective of such nuisances, it looks the party members are for now focused on how to achieve the freedom of their leader, Birtukan.

Meanwhile, various Ethiopian organizations have continued to express solidarity with UDJ. Among those who have called for the unconditional release of Ms. Birtukan Mideksa are EPRP-democratic, Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia (SMNE), Ginbot 7 Movement, and numerous others. Regarded as a unifying force of the ethnically-fragmented country, the arrest of the charismatic opposition leader has sparked protests and condemnations by Ethiopians around the world.

Before about half a dozen security agents whisked away Birtukan to prison on Monday, the man who was with her, fellow opposition leader Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, had tried to intervene, and advise those who were pushing and shoving Birtukan to be civil. “Why the need for all this commotion,” the 78-year-old Mesfin wondered, adding “a piece of paper would have been suffice to summon Birtukan anywhere.”

Suddenly, the old man found himself staggering from a violent kick with the butt of a gun to his groin. Complaining of severe pain to his bladder, kidney and legs, the veteran human rights activist was taken to hospital.

These are the thugs Meles Zenawi – whose brutality puts Robert Mugabe to shame – depends on for his dreaded longevity in power.

Pardoned opposition leader re-arrested; faces life in prisonBy Peter Heinlein, VOA ADDIS ABABA (Dec. 30) – A leading Ethiopian opposition figure has been imprisoned, and faces life behind bars after a pardon she was granted last year was revoked. Opposition parties charge the arrest was politically-motivated.

Ethiopian authorities said opposition Unity 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 said those convicted in connection with the 2005 protests were freed only after signing a document admitting guilt and asking to be pardoned.

A Matter of Law Or Violation of Pardon?

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.

“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,” he said.

Other leaders of the Unity 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, said the first step will be a legal challenge, since Birtukan’s arrest appears to violate the terms of the pardon proclamation.

“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,” he said.

Creating a One Party State?

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

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,” he said.

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

Imprisonment Changes Political Landscape

Birtukan’s imprisonment changes Ethiopia’s political landscape a year and a half before the next scheduled parliamentary elections. Her Unity 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.


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