A number of journalists, human rights workers and leaders of the opposition CUD party of Ethiopia are scheduled to go on trial later today, Thursday. The charges relate to protests over the ruling party’s win in last May’s parliamentary elections. Under Ethiopian law, if they are found guilty, the sentences will range from life in prison to death.
Bereket Simon is Ethiopia’s former information minister and now advisor to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He explains to English to Africa reporter James Butty why it has taken the Ethiopian government this long to try the opposition leaders: “The responsibility of the government is to ensure a speedy, free and open trial. Whether to release them or make them stay in prison is the priority of the judiciary. 'Speedy' in Ethiopia means you should stay in prison without the court’s decision and the respected government, especially the prosecutor’s office has to file charges in an expedited way. So far as our information goes, the charges have been filed, the courts have looked at them, and have decided that the prisoners should stay in prison and argue their case.
On the charges against the journalists, Bereket Simon says the journalists broke the rule of law: “When journalists have broken the rule of law, then they have to face the court. I think the government cannot interfere in the judicial process. It’s up to the judiciary to decide whatever they feel the journalists deserve. If the judiciary feels the journalists are free to go and have not committed any crime, then it is up to them. If they have to punish them based on the law of the land, then it’s up to the judiciary.”