BY AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE — ADDIS ABABA, Jan 15 – An Ethiopian opposition official accused the government on Friday of violating the rights of his party’s jailed leader who is serving life imprisonment.
Birtukan Mideksa, head of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, was initially sentenced to life on treason charges in 2005 after her party accused the regime of vote rigging in that year’s elections, but was pardoned two years later.
The sentence was reinstated in December 2008 however, after authorities claimed the 36-year-old had obstructed the terms of her pardon by denying that she had “expressed remorse” in political rallies held in Europe.
“The authorities are still violating her constitutional rights despite a court order. Nobody is allowed to visit her apart from her mother and daughter,” Gizachew Shiferaw, a senior party official, told AFP.
“We had brought the issue of visitation rights to court which ruled in favour of us, but they are reneging on their obligations,” he said.
Gizachew added that Birtukan spent 107 days in solitary confinement.
Several rallies in the United States and Europe were held earlier this month to pressure for her release, while a small-scale demonstration took place in Addis Ababa to mark one year since her imprisonment.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said last month there was “zero chance” that she would be released in time for polls on May 23, the first since 2005 when disputed results sparked violence that claimed around 200 lives.
The United States, a staunch Ethiopian ally and the country’s top aid contributor, has expressed concern over the 36-year-old’s re-arrest and called for more political freedom in the Horn of Africa nation.
Five other opposition leaders were sentenced to death and 33 other people to life imprisonment in December for plotting to overthrow the government.
Authorities claimed a group called “Ginbot 7” — led by Birtukan’s former ally Berhanu Nega — had plotted to kill government officials and sabotage infrastructure.
Rights groups have accused Meles’ regime of instilling a climate of fear ahead of the polls.
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