One of the men sentenced to death Tuesday by an Ethiopian court said the sentence is an attempt by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government to continue to terrorize the Ethiopian people.
Berhanu Nega, founder of the Ginbot Seven and former leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, said he was not surprised by the death sentence.
“This is a government that is lashing out at everyone. As you have heard recently (Prime Minister) Meles himself called the American ambassador an idiot…but in the mean really the target is the Ethiopian population; it is an attempt to terrorize the population,” he said.
Nega was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in the 2005 election, but never took office. Instead he was among opposition leaders jailed for inciting the post-election violence.
With national elections coming up in 2010, Nega said the Ethiopian government is using terror because it is fearful of losing the election like in 2005.
“More than anything else, what they are worried about and what they are afraid of is that what has transpired in 2005 that the public does not want this government at all…and that’s what they want to send a message to the public and the opposition that you challenge us in any meaningful way you die,” Nega said.
He denied being part of any plot to assassinate government officials and overthrow the government.
“We have made it very clear from the beginning that there is no truth to this. Not only that, the people who have supposedly spoken in court have very clearly said that they have been tortured to admit to what they haven’t committed. In fact some of these people have been found in court bruised and beaten,” he said.
Nega dismissed Justice Ministry spokesman Mekonnen Bezabeih’s claim that the court presented a preponderance of evidence against the accused.
“You really have to know what the judicial system is in order to understand what is going on. In one case, when we were arrested last time, they accused me and another person of destroying a house on a day that we were already in prison two days before that. So that’s what evidence is for them. Evidence is what the government says,” Nega said.
While saying that he could not speak for all those convicted and sentenced, Nega said he does not think he and the others will appeal their sentences.
“I can tell you that appeal is something that assumes that there is a judiciary. There is no way we will appeal to anything. This is a court that has decided on the basis of no evidence,” Nega said.
He said Ethiopians have known for a long time that there are no independent courts in their country only a government that is committed to staying in power by any means necessary.