The Ethiopian government said 35 opposition politicians and activists who were sentenced to life imprisonment Monday by the country's Federal High Court are free to seek an appeal. Bereket Simon, advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told VOA the opposition leaders and activists have signed a request asking the government to pardon them for committing what he called crimes against the constitution.
“It has been verified that the opposition who are in prison have signed a request for the government to pardon them based on the fact that they have made mistakes. So it has become a new development now,” he said.
In its decision Monday, the Federal High Court also denied the opposition leaders the right to vote or run for public office for inciting violence in an attempt to overthrow the government. Simon said the court’s decision is in line with Ethiopian law.
“That is a judicial decision. You know if they have been found criminal, and incarcerated, they have no right to vote or to run for public office,” he said.
Simon dismissed claims by international human rights groups that the trial was an attempt to silence the critics of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
“This is a process that was conducted in a fair manner in the presence of international observers. It was not politically motivated. This is a law enforcement issue; it is a legal issue. They have got the chance to defend themselves, but they were not able to defend the overwhelming facts that the government has presented. In any case, they have submitted an admission of guilt paper for the government. They have admitted clearly that they have committed mistakes that they have been trying to overthrow the government in an unconstitutional way,” Simon said.
Simon again rejected claims that the life sentence was an attempt by Prime Minister Zenawi to get rid of his political opposition. He said the Zenawi government is not afraid of the opposition.
“The same political opposition is in parliament. We are working with them; we are debating, arguing every day. We are not afraid of any of their ideas. Secondly, we will see how the Pardon Board will react to their request for pardon. If the Pardon Board accepts their request, these people might be out of prison. So in that case, it clearly tells you that this government is not afraid of the opposition as such,” he said.
Simon said the Ethiopian government initiated a legal process against the opposition leaders, which he said consummated Monday with the announcement of their life sentence. At the same time, Simon said elders in Ethiopia have been in contacted with the jailed opposition leaders.
“Both the elders and the prisoners reached an agreement; the prisoners admitted guilt. But the initiative of the elders had nothing to do with the government. The process of the government is a legal process, which has run its own course. No pressure from any outside force, no blackmail or whatsoever has stopped that from taking place, and that has been consummated now,” Simon said.