Anti-poverty campaigners Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie are now the only defendants still striving to establish their innocence, out of 131 originally accused in a long-running treason trial in Ethiopia.
With their advocate, the two will begin presenting their defence evidence to the Federal High Court today.
They will be the only ones left on trial in this case. On Wednesday 25 July five defendants changed their pleas to guilty, and two others decided not to present any further evidence. Those convicted will be sentenced next week and it is understood they will immediately seek presidential pardons.
Last week 38 people already convicted in the trial, most of them opposition politicians, were sentenced and then pardoned. They had signed a document admitting using “unconstitutional means to change the constitutionally established government functions” following the 2005 elections.
Daniel Bekele, 40, policy manager of ActionAid Ethiopia, and Netsanet Demissie, 29, general manager of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia, decided not to sign, arguing that their activities in 2005 were entirely legal and served not to undermine but to protect and promote Ethiopia’s constitutional order. They wish to establish this in court and secure their acquittal.
The two were detained in November 2005 alongside opposition political leaders and charged in January 2006 with the crime of “outrage against the constitution and the constitutional order”.
Daniel and Netsanet have argued in court that their work in monitoring the 2005 parliamentary election and their involvement in the civil society initiative to resolve the post-electoral political impasse were both positive contributions performed in a peaceful and constitutional manner.
Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders.