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Ginbot 7 / Ginbot Seven

Ginbot 7 is a political opposition movement established in the United States on May 15, 2008 by Berhanu Nega. Berhanu Nega was a Vice Chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition party who competed successfully to become mayor of Addis Ababa in the 2005 elections. Berhanu Nega was arrested and tried along with Melaku and scores of other opposition leaders. He re-acquired his legal permanent resident status upon being released and pardoned and became an Associate Professor of Economics at Bucknell University. On the third anniversary of the 2005 elections, Berhanu and others in the Diaspora founded Ginbot 7 (the date in the Ethiopian calendar corresponding to May 15, the day of the 2005 elections). At the founding event, Berhanu stated that the actions of the GoE demonstrate that peaceful struggle is not working in Ethiopia, and arguing therefore that struggle by any means is appropriate for Ethiopians to live freely. Ginbot 7 publicly advocates change "by any means necessary."

The Ethiopian Government (GoE) announced on 25 April 2009 that it had arrested 35 individuals affiliated with the overseas-based opposition movement "Ginbot 7" who were planning a "terrorist attack" in Addis Ababa. The Government was quick to clarify that it disrupted a "terrorist attack" not a "coup" as had been reported by some media outlets. State Minister of Communications Ermias Legesse said the group was composed of active and previously-dismissed military officers as well as a group of civilians. Ermias reported that the federal police had obtained court warrants on the morning of April 24 and, upon searching the homes of many suspects, found weapons, military clothing, maps, land mines, and documents detailing plans for a terrorist attack. Ermias declined to comment on the target(s) of the alleged attack, but did say that the effort sought to disrupt activities all over the city.

Ermias reported that one of the leaders of the alleged attack was Brigadier General Teferra Mammo while the civilian coordinator was Mr. Melaku Teferra. Melaku had been a leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) opposition party in 2005 who was detained and tried along with roughly one hundred other opposition leaders from November 2005 through July 2007. Melaku is currently a member of the National Council of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party. The GoE explicitly argued that former CUD Vice Chairman and Addis Ababa mayor-elect Berhanu Nega was the driving force and mastermind behind the alleged attack.

The arrest of Ginbot 7 suspects was as much a surprise to the Ethiopian public as it was to international observers. Observers doubted that well known and respected retired military and police officials residing in the capital city with their family members would openly plot the overthrow of the government. Human rights and Ethiopia-focused blogs are suggesting that the suspects did not commit the crimes with which they have been charged. While the Task Force had the necessary court warrants for the arrests, there was total secrecy concerning the names of suspects for over 32 days, a violation of the criminal code which requires suspects to appear before the court for presentation of charges within 48 hours.

Police investigation and pre-trial procedures took over a month. Family members of the suspects and international human rights organizations expressed concerns regarding the conditions of arrest for the 35 suspects. On May 25, the prosecutor filed five charges with the harshest sentence being life imprisonment and the death penalty. On November 19, after hearing nearly two months of prosecutor and defense witnesses testimony, the court passed guilty verdicts on 27 defendants and acquitted five. Fourteen of the defendants were tried in absentia.

Police brought the suspects to the First Instance Federal Court on April 27. The police told the court they had not completed their investigation and requested more time. The court granted 14 additional days to the police. On May 11, the police asked for and were again granted 14 additional days. Family members, reporters or attorneys were not allowed to observe the proceedings. On May 25, the police told the court they had completed their investigation and passed the documents to the prosecutor. The suspects asked for bail but were denied.

On June 4, family members, the press and representatives of diplomatic missions were allowed to attend the trial. The Prosecutor read the names of 32 suspects present in court (police released 8 suspects for lack of evidence) and announced that 14 suspects would be tried in absentia. The 14 suspects tried in absentia were: Aweke Afework, Alehubel Amare, Yaregal Yimam, Berhanu Nega, Andargachew Tsige, Muluneh Eyoel, Dereje Habtewold, Dan, Mesfin Aman, Daniel Assefa, Chekol Getahun, Efrem Madebo, Fasil Yenealem, Amanuel.

On June 4 the prosecutor leveled five charges against the 46 defendants: 1) conspiring with the Ginbot 7 Terrorist Group8 to engage in acts of terror; 2) plotting to assassinate senior government officials and incite rebellion within the army; 3) conspiring to destroy government and private institutions; 4) conspiring to dismantle the constitutional order and smuggle arms; and 5) recruiting and arming members of an opposition group. Thirty of the 32 defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges, while the remaining two (Major Adugna Alemayehu, Major Adefris Asaminew) pleaded guilty to all charges. All defendants were represented by attorneys.

Dr. Berhanu Nega, Chairman of Ginbot 7 and Andargachew Tsige, Secretary General of Ginbot 7 dismissed the charges as a sham and dubbed the court a kangaroo court. Getu Worku, the first cousin of Dr. Berhanu Nega, and Tsige Habtemariam, the 80-year old father of Andargachew Tsige, were among the 32 defendants.

Family members and attorneys reported that the suspects had suffered physical and psychological abuse while being held in pre-trial detention. On June 15, retired General Asmainew Tsige, told the court that he was being held in solitary confinement and pleaded for special human-rights protection. The attorney of Getu Worku asked the court that her client be allowed to see a private doctor for injuries suffered in detention. On November 13 retired General Asaminew Tsige told the court that he was tortured and had lost his left eye due to beatings by prison guards. Major Mekonnen Worku told the court he was beaten in jail and showed the court injuries on his arms and legs. The court asked the prison administration to respond to the accusations of torture and beating. On November 17, the prison administration told the court the alleged torture and beatings reported by suspects were self-inflicted.

On November 19, the Second Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court passed a guilty verdict on 27 defendants and acquitted the following five defendants: Major Fanaye Wube, Lieutenant Ababu Teferi, Inspector Aragaw Asfaw, Sergeant Ayten Kassa and Getu Wolde. The court is adjourned to hear final statements from the prosecutor and defense attorneys regarding sentencing at a later date.

The sentencing phase of the trial began on December 1 with the prosecutor asking the Second Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court to confiscate the property of eight of the Ginbot 7 defendants. The prosecutor submitted a list of property owned by these defendants to the court. After hearing the prosecutor's arguments, the court ordered the freezing of the property of the eight defendants until it reached a final decision on the merits of the case. On December 8 the court heard further arguments in the property case. The defense attorneys argued it was against the law to confiscate the property of individuals without taking spouses, children and third parties related to the property into consideration.

The charges filed by the prosecutor entailed a life sentence or the death penalty. The Ethiopian court system allows defendants to appeal to a higher court. The Federal Supreme Court can reduce or reverse decisions made by the Federal High Court if appropriate. Defendants can appeal to the Cassation Court if they feel the decision passed by the Federal Supreme Court has errors in the interpretation of the law. Decisions made by the Cassation Court are final. If a death sentence is passed, it will be carried out only when the President of the Federal Government approves it. The President has used this power sparingly and only two or three death sentences had been carried out in the previous 18 years.

In a packed courtroom on 22 December 2009, Ethiopia's Federal High Court sentenced 40 Ginbot 7 defendants. The Court sentenced five defendants to death, 33 defendants to life terms, and two defendants to 10 years. The charges in which the defendants were convicted included: conspiracy against the constitutional system; conspiracy to destroy government institutions; attempted assassination of government officials; and inciting rebellion within the army. The defendants showed little emotion as the sentences were read aloud, while relatives openly cried. The presiding judge Adem Ibrahim explained that the court rejected the prosecutor's request to sentence all defendants to death (except the two who pleaded guilty, stating that the death sentence is reserved for dangerous criminals only. The Court handed down the death sentence to the convicted political leaders of the plot (including Dr. Berhanu Nega) and those who were sentenced in the past for criminal acts. Lawyers for the defendants have the option to appeal these sentences to the Supreme Court.

Many defendants previously petitioned the Court for sentence leniency based on their long years of service to their country, family status, lack of previous criminal record, and poor health condition. The Court said it rejected the Prosecutor's request to confiscate properties of three defendants (Brigadier General Teferra Mamo, Asamnew Tsige, and Tsige Habtemaryam). The Court did rule to confiscate the properties of Dr. Berhanu Nega, Getu Worku, Alehubel Amare, Andargachew Tsige, and Yaregal Yimam, all whom were convicted in absentia. The Court stated this decision would not affect any property owned by their spouses. The complete list of names of those convicted and given death sentence (5 defendants):

  • Melaku Teferra
  • Dr. Berhanu Nega (charged in abstentia)
  • Muluneh Eyoel (charged in abstentia)
  • Andargachew Tsige (charged in abstentia)
  • Mesfin Aman (charged in abstentia)

Amnesty International (AI) has called on Ethiopian authorities not to execute Melaku Tefera, a member of the Union for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ), the only one of five men sentenced to death on 22 December 2009 who remains in Ethiopia. The other four sentenced to death in absentia are exiled Ginbot 7 party leaders Berhanu Nega, Andargachew Tsige, Muluneh Eyouel and Mesfin Aman. On the same day 33 others, including one woman, received life sentences.

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