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Group Pushes for Release of Election Protesters in Ethiopia


A pan-African delegation of religious and civil leaders is urging the Kenyan government to pressure Ethiopia to release thousands of people jailed for protesting last year's elections. The call comes one week after the delegation met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Delegation member Hellen Tombo calls the jailed protesters "political prisoners" and says Kenya has a lot to lose unless it intervenes in what she says is increasing political repression in Ethiopia.

"If our neighbors in Ethiopia go to a crisis which is about to erupt, we will have an inflow of refugees, meaning that we will be hosting so many refugees in Kenya," said Tombo. "This will kind of destroy our economic value at a level where [the] majority of the resources will be going to take care of the refugees from Ethiopia."

Tombo says the Kenyan government provided leadership in the peace processes of Somalia and Sudan, and should also take a similar interest in Ethiopia's human-rights situation.

She predicts that the situation will erupt in Ethiopia if people feel that they cannot express their political opinions without being jailed or harassed by the authorities.

Tombo made her remarks in the Kenyan capital following a week-long visit to Ethiopia, where she and other members of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty's delegation met with Prime Minister Meles and prominent religious and civil society members there.

Ethiopian authorities arrested thousands of opposition leaders and supporters, journalists, students and others in protests before, during, and after the May 2005 elections.

Those still behind bars face various charges including treason, incitement to violence, and dismantling the constitutional order. Five Voice of America reporters were charged in absentia with treason, but the charges were later dropped.

Delegation member Henry Malumo describes some of what he says are human-rights abuses committed by Ethiopian authorities.

"We have a situation where there were unlawful killings, including political killings and beating, abuse and mistreatment of detainees, poor prison conditions, limitation on citizens' rights to change their government, and also government's infringement on citizens' private rights, and frequent refusal to follow the legal process regarding the search warrants," he said.

Malumo says his group is calling for unconditional releases of what he calls "prisoners of conscience" or at the very least speedy and transparent trials.

He says Prime Minister Meles assured the group that he will ensure that trials will be carried out quickly and fairly, but says the prime minister did not commit himself to unconditional releases.

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