A group charged with conspiracy to overthrow Ethiopia's government has asked a court for special protection, alleging their human rights have been violated during detention. Our correspondent reports relatives say some defendants have been tortured.
At a pre-trial hearing, attorneys and defendants in the so-called "Ginbot Seven" case indicated the accused had suffered physical and psychological abuse while being held in pre-trial detention.
Former army general Asamenew Tsige, one of five leaders of an alleged coup plot being held in solitary confinement, pleaded for special human-rights protection. An attorney for another defendant, businessman Getu Worku, asked that her client be allowed to see a private doctor for injuries suffered in detention.
Both requests were denied.
Getu Worku's wife, Rakeb Messele, who is also an attorney and human rights activist, said her husband was told he could only be examined by prison doctors.
"He was told he can try to address those issues through the health personnel of the prison administration," said Rakeb Messele. " [They said] you cannot ask for a private doctor to examine the client because now he is at the custody of the prison administration. What she said that the report of the medical examination might serve as evidence for her client."
Rights groups have expressed concern about the political implications of the arrest of the 32 Ginbot Seven activists. The organization is led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005.
Berhanu was later jailed along with other opposition leaders in connection with violent post-election protests and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 2007 and went to the United States, where he founded Ginbot Seven, named for May 15th, the date of the disputed election. He has repeatedly stated the group's goal is to oust Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government, which it considers illegitimate, but he denies the existence of any assassination plot.
Thirty-two accused conspirators appeared in court for pre-trial hearings. Berhanu Nega is among 14 others charged in absentia.
Most of those in custody are current or former military officers, including two generals. But the government has rejected suggestions that the group was planning a military coup.
Relatives of some of the defendants told reporters their loved ones had been subjected to harsh physical abuse during interrogation.
Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal rejected the charge, and pointed out that in three court appearances, the defendants had not filed any specific charges of abuse or torture. He said investigating officers never resort to what he called 'third-degree measures' to procure information from prisoners.
The case was adjourned for further study until June 30, when a bail request will be heard. The court also turned down a special bail request by the 83-year-old father of a top Ginbot Seven official. The official is living in Britain, and is among those charged in absentia.