Ethiopia treason suspects “acted within law”

Elias Kifle | July 31st, 2007

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A U.N. elections consultant told an Ethiopian treason trial on Tuesday two anti-poverty activists charged with trying to overthrow the government had been acting within the law.

Daniel Bekele, 40, and Netsanet Demissie, 29, are the last defendants out of 131 originally charged in the proceedings that followed post-election violence in 2005 which a parliamentary inquiry said killed 199 civilians and police, and resulted in 30,000 arrests.

The defendants were involved in deploying observers at polling stations in and around the capital Addis Ababa.

Most of those originally charged were freed on July 20 after the government published a letter it said opposition leaders had signed admitting their guilt and repenting.

Defence lawyers say Bekele and Netsanet, who work for ActionAid Ethiopia and the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia respectively, refused to sign and want to be acquitted.

The case has been criticised by human rights groups and donors, who complained that it was an attempt to dismantle the opposition after it made strong gains in elections.

Richard Morgan Chambers, who was assigned by the United Nations to advise the then-chairman of Ethiopia’s election board, testified the pair had “performed in accordance with the constitution and the legal framework of the country”.

Chambers, who was appearing as a defence witness, said the defendants had provided him with “extremely helpful” analysis.

“Their report on the election was balanced and contained the negative and positive aspects. They performed an impressive job as election observers despite the difficult situation,” he said.

The trial was later adjourned to Wednesday afternoon.

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