By Kirubel Tadesse (2 March 2009) capital — Meles Zenawi’s Communication Affairs Office, Bereket Simon, says it is impossible to hold a public rally on Birtukan’s case, as it is a matter already dealt with by the judiciary.
Opposition party, Unity for Democracy (UDJ) has set a date to stage a public demonstration in Addis Ababa to protest at what it calls clear and widespread violations of the constitution, including the re-arrest of its chairperson, Birtukan Midekssa.
Established by the leadership of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP), UDJ obtained its accreditation to operate on a national level back in August 2008.
In an effort to unite former CUDP supporters currently scattered across various groups at home and in the Diaspora, the UDJ was aggressively operating across the nation, and in some European and American cities where Ethiopian opposition supporters live in great numbers.
The party issued a statement accusing the national and regional government of being responsible for widespread illegal activities, ranging from forced office closures to harassments and several arrests. In a press conference held last Thursday, UDJ’s acting chairperson, Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw, commented to Capital that attempts to resolve the violations by discussions with regional and relevant authorities were unfruitful: “Most of us [in leadership] went personally to a number of regional heads’ offices to bring the intimidations and illegal office closures to their attention. As we go to the kebele level, things get worse.”
He recounted testimonies from four regional party members from Amhara, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ State to illustrate the claimed intimidation.
The party’s three page communiqué issued refers to its youth, media and communications sub committee’s scheduled literature evening to demonstrate the extent of the serious setbacks the party is enduring. “After submitting a letter of notification to the relevant authority, we were ordered to postpone because of the ongoing African Union Summit and we accepted. A notification of our new date was sent again, but it has been several days and we have had no response.”
“That is preventing us from exercising our democratic rights,” the UDJ statement reads.
The statement adds that by law the party could hold the meeting, due to the authority’s delay in responding. However, it says the police have recently broken up such events, leading the party to wait for the official go-ahead.
According to the party’s statement, the re-arrest of Birtukan also falls under the trend of violations of the law.
“Prior to the public demonstration, scheduled tentatively in a month’s time, we will organize a symposium where various papers will be presented to make the public aware of the current violations of the law and to see the legal implications of the acts,” UDJ vice-chair Dr. Hailu Araya explained to Capital. “We won’t hold the demonstration to protest the court’s life sentence, rather the step the government took to revoke the pardon and the violation of human rights observed during the arrest,” Hailu added.
UDJ have made Birtukan’s re-arrest a priority, and have set up four committees to have its chairperson released from prison. Birtukan, who received a life sentence from the federal court in 2006, was, along with most of the former CUD leadership, released just before the Ethiopian millennium.
The Government says due to her failure to retract her denial of asking for a pardon, her pardon was revoked and she is now serving a life sentence as of December 29, 2008. However, UDJ says this is illegal.
Head of Government Communication Affairs Office, Minister Bereket Simon, explains that holding or conducting demonstrations is a right protected by law.
“Apart from Birtukan’s case, they can hold a demonstration based on the allegations, or what they feel has to be corrected, that is within their legal right,” Bereket explained to Capital, “if they mix up these with Birtukan’s case, it will be wrong to hold demonstration because it is a judicially settled matter. And I don’t think it is proper to try to subvert judicial decisions from being implemented by terrorizing implementing bodies.”
Just a few days later after Birutkan’s re-arrest, the Justice Ministry issued a statement cautioning all not to try to influence independent judiciary. As to how the government will react if UDJ decides to hold the public demonstration despite this caution, Minister Bereket said it will be impossible to make Birtukan’s case the focus of the rally.