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New School Alum Faces Trumped-Up Treason Charge

Neela Ghosal Jan 13, 2006

The Ethiopian government seems to be taking its cue from Museveni in jailing political opponents. One hundred and thirty-one journalists, civil society leaders, and members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD )including New School alumnus Berhanu Nega were jailed in November on charges of sedition, high treason and genocide following protests in June and November against the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Party. The protests were a response to May 2005 parliamentary elections, which the opposition claimed were rigged.

Ethiopian Minister of information Bereket Simon charged the opposition with fostering “strife between the different nationalities of Ethiopia which might have made the Rwandan genocide look like child’s play,” although to the outside observer, the protests scarcely appear genocidal. Under Ethiopian law, a person can be charged with genocide for “issuing propaganda against the state.”

Nearly the entire leadership of the CUD is behind bars. At least 82 people died in the protests, most killed by Ethiopian police. According to United Press International, a staggering 40,000 Ethiopians civilians have been detained in conjunction with political protests since May. Five Ethiopian-born journalists based in the United States, employees of Voice of America, have also been charged in absentia with treason.

While the World Bank has stated it will withhold millions in budgetary support to Ethiopia due to its treatment of the opposition, the United States announced on Jan. 5 that it would not withhold aid. “Ethiopia is the only country in the Horn moving towards democracy and development,” acting U.S. Ambassador Vicki Huddleston told reporters.

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