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Ethiopia Denies Protesters Are Wrongly Detained


The item below, as originally posted on February 2, stated that US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer called on the Ethiopian government to release all opposition politicians imprisoned since last year’s election.

Ms. Frazer's actual words were: "We think that its important for Prime Minister Meles to release many of the people who are in jail, certainly to bring their trials to a very speedy conclusion, give them as you say, due process of the law, give them an opportunity to have a case in jail. And for those who, ah, there isn't a substantial case to be made, allow them to leave, ah, so certainly we've been putting pressure, our Charge' there Vicki Huddleston has been in constant dialogue with Prime Minister Meles and members of the opposition. We've ah, our, members of our embassy have had the opportunity to meet with the families of those who are detained as well. So yes, indeed we are putting pressure and we think its important for the Prime Minister to allow, to release those who are detained."

The Ethiopian government says jailed opposition members are not being detained for their political protests but because they used violence to try to change the constitution. Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer called on the Ethiopian government to release all opposition politicians imprisoned since last year’s election. She said all Ethiopians have the right to protest and should not go to jail for that. Birhan Hailu is Ethiopia’s minister of information. He explains his government’s position to English to Africa reporter James Butty.

“Those people have the right to protest but protest under the rule of law. They are [in] jail because they were acting unlawfully. They were trying to topple the government using unlawful means, which was against the constitution. So the case is now out of the hand of government, and it is [being] handled by the court. The case should be finalized through the due process of law, and based on the decision of the court, those detainees may be released or they may be sentenced.”

Hailu denies Amnesty International’s claims that the government was holding thousands of members of Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group in detention in a crackdown on protests.

“Well, those reports are very much exaggerated. There are people we have in jail but the number is small, not that much in thousands. And these people are [being] handled properly and humanely.”

Hailu admits the detainees include students, but he says they were trying to instigate violence on school campuses. Hailu says the situation in Ethiopia is not degenerating into an ethnic conflict.

“The situation in the country is stable, and both the political and economic situation is in good condition. I don’t think that there will be any ethnic conflict in the future.”On Wednesday’s demonstrations in Washington against the Ethiopian government, Hailu says Ethiopians in the diaspora do not understand the situation in the country, which he described as calm and stable.

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