A human rights group says it’s deeply concerned about the nearly 40 people convicted in Ethiopia Monday on charges stemming from political violence two years ago. Among those convicted were four editors and three publishers of newspapers that have since closed down.
In 2005, protests followed parliamentary elections, which critics say were rigged. Nearly 200 people died in the violence.
Tumusiime Kabwende Deo is a spokesman for the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. From Kampala, Uganda, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the convictions.
“Our reaction is actually that the government of Ethiopia is completely wrong in acting that way. And our major concern is about the human rights defenders, whom our organization actually works to protect. We think the government is not treating them fairly. And according to information we have received from some of our contacts it appears that the government of Ethiopia ought to take full responsibility of the violence that occurred in 2005, leading to the arrests of the persons we have mentioned,” he says.
The Ethiopian government has denied the convictions are an attempt to stifle political dissent. Deo says, “I would not comment on the political side. Our interest for the organization rotates around human rights defenders and the journalists.” Asked whether the political and human rights situations are intertwined, Deo says, “They might be intertwined, but then it’s very hard to gauge at what extent the government action is in the interest of national security. This is a kind of scenario that is being used by various governments in Africa just to crackdown on innocent human rights defenders. I mean what yardstick do you use to gauge that such and such an action is in the interest of national security or not.”
Deo says his sources tell him that those convicted could receive long prison sentences and in some cases maybe even the death penalty.