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Human Rights Watch is concerned that the authorities have violated the right to bail as provided in the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights law in two cases involving political dissidents and journalists. We urge that high court orders mandating their release on bail be immediately honored.

We have learned that on August 9, 2004, the Federal High Court ordered the release on bail of the leadership of Mecha Tulema, the oldest and most prominent Oromo community welfare association: President Deribi Demissie; vice president Gemechu Feyera; treasurer Sintayehu Workneh; and secretariat member Wzo. Ayelu Atisa. Mecha Tulema and its leadership have been accused of providing support for the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front and engaging in "terrorism." Upon his release, President Deribi reported being mistreated while in jail. We were dismayed to learn that the Ethiopian government then re-arrested all four on August 16, a week after their release.

Human Rights Watch also learned that in late April 2004 the police arrested two Oromo-language journalists working for the government-owned Ethiopian Television, Shiferu Insermu and Dhabasa Wakjira. The Federal High Court ordered both to be released on bail. Shiferu was able to make bail and was released earlier this summer. The police rearrested him on August 17.

Article 19(6) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides that persons arrested have the right to be released on bail. The denial of the right to bail is also a violation of article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Ethiopia ratified in 1993. It provides that bail be reasonably available to detainees as an alternative to pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detention generally is lawful only in exceptional cases where release on bail would impede due process of law. Rearresting persons released on bail by court order also raises concerns under article 9(1) of the ICCPR, which prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention: No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.

The arrest of the Mecha Tulema leadership is also disturbing because it seems to be an attempt to silence peaceful criticism of government policies. In January, the state security forces used unnecessary force against a peaceful rally called by Mecha Tulema to protest the move of Oromiya State government offices outside Addis Ababa. The organization also called on the government to reconsider the wholesale suspension of 300 Addis Ababa University students who held a sit-down strike. In July, the Ministry of Justice revoked Mecha Tulemaƒ­s license because of its alleged political activities in violation of its charter. The charges against the organization and its leadership are similar to those made by the government against an Oromo human rights monitoring organization, the Human Rights League. In 2001, a court acquitted its eight founding members of unsubstantiated charges of involvement in terrorist activity after they had been detained three-and-a-half years. Instead of revoking a license to operate, the government refuses to issue a license to the League.

Human Rights Watch respectfully urges your government to honor the court orders mandating the release on bail of the Mecha Tulema leadership and the journalists.

Very truly yours,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

- H.E. Herka Haroye, Minister of Justice
- Major Befekadu Tollera, Addis Ababa Police Commissioner
- Ato Getachaw Assefa, Office of the Prime Minister
- Ato Workneh Gebeyehu, Federal Police Commissioner, Ministry of Federal Affairs

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