The human rights group Amnesty International is demanding the immediate and unconditional release of leaders of the opposition CUD party, human rights workers and journalists who are scheduled to go on trial Thursday.

Amnesty calls them ?prisoners of conscience? and says they were imprisoned for ?non-violent opinions and activities.? The Ethiopian government, however, has accused them of serious charges stemming from demonstrations that occurred after last May?s disputed elections. Some of those accused would be tried in absentia, such as five VOA journalists here in Washington, DC.

Martin Hill is a researcher for Amnesty International. From London, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua: ?The charges are various. They include high treason, outrages against the constitution, inciting and organizing armed uprising, endangering the integrity of the state, obstructing the National Election Board, and also an absurd [charge] of genocide.?

Amnesty believes all the charges are groundless based on its investigations in Ethiopia since the elections, including interviews with many of those accused. Among the accused is Yacob Hailemariam, a former UN special envoy and a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He also helped mediate the border dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria. Hill says, ?It is quite ridiculous that [Hailemariam] should be subjected to a charge of genocide.?

Another of the accused, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, a human rights defender, is reported to have been on a hunger strike since February 8th. ?He?s 75 years old. He had been very ill before he was arrested and we are extremely concerned. He?s said to be getting very weak and we don?t know where this will go.

Most of the defendants are being held in Kaliti prison near the capital, Addis Ababa.