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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Ethiopian activists freed on bail
Police corner a demonstrator
The two men were arrested after student riots
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Two of Ethiopia's leading human rights activists have been released from custody on bail after a fifth court appearance having spent four weeks in jail.

We should never have been put in prison as we have done nothing wrong

Professor Mesfin
Professor Mesfin-Wolde Mariam and Berhanu Nega have been charged with inciting university students to riot and of membership to an illegal political party.

The detention of the two men was heavily criticised both in Ethiopia and internationally with many claiming that the government was trying to silence dissenting voices.

The two men were arrested on 8 May after being accused by the government of instigating the recent student protests that resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people and damage worth millions of dollars.


The tense atmosphere in the courtroom erupted into cheers as two men were told that could go home.

Hundreds of friends, relatives and supporters who had packed into the small courtroom and gathered in the courtyard outside, ululated and cheered as presiding judge Ambacho Abate declared that the two prominent scholars should be released on bail.

After a lengthy statement Judge Ambacho argued that according to Article 63 of the Ethiopian Procedural Law, the two defendants should be released from police custody until the date of the next hearing.

'Not guilty'

The defendants have said that they are not guilty of the charges being made against them.

Student protestor
The men said they were just informing the students of their rights
They admit that they did speak to students the day before the trouble broke out but they say all they were doing was informing the students of their basic human and academic rights.

On his release, surrounded by well-wishers and family, Professor Mesfin said that he and Mr Berhanu were not part of any political party and had never encouraged the use of violence.

"We welcome our right to bail. The law is vindicated. But we should never have been put in prison as we have done nothing wrong", he told the BBC.

The defendants' lawyer, Tamiru Wondimagan, said he was pleased with the decision of the court adding that the bail charge of $700 and $1200 for Professor Mesfin and Mr Berhanu respectively was a fair amount.

The case has gripped the nation as economist Mr Berhanu and 71-year-old Professor Mesfin, who is the former head of the Ethiopian human rights council, are well respected in the country.

Both are considered controversial figures for their outspoken nature in society where secrecy and suspicion still exists.

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See also:

22 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopia urged to free academics
08 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopian academics arrested
21 Apr 01 | Africa
Anger over Ethiopian detainees
18 Apr 01 | Africa
More clashes in Addis Ababa
21 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
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