Ethiopia: 16 recently pardoned Military regime officials released

High ranking officials of the former Military regime were released on probation last week. The list includes v/President and Prime Minister of the Military regime, aka Degue, that was ousted in May 28, 1991.

Hundreds of former Dergue officials had been charged of genocide for their role, in the 1975-77, in the officially waged campaign, dubbed ‘Red Terror’, to wipe out members of opposition parties.

The high-profile case of 73 top officials – of which former President Mengistu Hailemariam and 24 tried in absentia – concluded in 2005 sentencing most of them to life or lesser prison terms – as they were found directly responsible for the deaths of 2,000 people and the torture of at least 2,400.

Prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court and obtained a death sentence on 26 of them, including the former President, in 2008. Though Ethiopia excuted only 2 death penalties in the last 20 years, the death sentence would deny the convict the opportunity to be released on probation.

However, Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis signed a pardon that commutes the death sentences to life imprisonment on May 28/2011, after religious leaders lobbied in favor. The pardon included only the 23 convicts which were at the time in prison – as Pardon, under Ethiopia law, is a procedure applicable only to one serving her/his prison terms.

Though the Ethiopian Constitution stipulates that genocide, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ, it authorizes the President to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

On the other hand, Ethiopia’s Crime Law allows a prisoner to apply for release on probation after serving 2/3rd of the sentence, or, in case of life sentence, after twenty years of imprisonment.

Thus, 16 of the 23 recently pardoned Dergue officials were able to be released on probation, after 20 years in prison. Those are: Captain Fikreselassie Wogderes (frm. Prime Minister), Col. Feseha Desta (frm. V/President), Captain Legesse Asfaw, Br. Gen. Legesse Belayneh, Lieutenant Petros Gebre, Lieutenant Seleshi mengesha, Lt. Col. Nadew Zekarias, Maj. Gen. Wubshet Dessie, Col. Endale Tessema, Major Dejene W/Agegnehu, Eshetu Shenkute, Lieutenant Desalegn Belay, Private Lesanu Molla,Private Abebe Eshetu, Private Zerihun (Berihun?) Mamo and Gesgese Gebremeskel

It is expected the rest will follow when they are legible for release on probation. One of the recently pardoned convicts, Chief of the frm. regime spychief, Col. Tesfaye Woldeselassie, however, died last June, days after the pardon.

The Ethiopian Crime Law(art. 269), defines Genocide as follows:

Whoever, in time of .war or in time of peace, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a nation, nationality, ethnical, racial,national, colour, religious or political group, organizes, orders or engages in:
(a) killing, bodily harm or serious injury to the physical or mental health of members of the group, in any way whatsoever or causing disappear; or
(b) measures to prevent the propagation or continued survival of its members. or their progeny; or
(c) the compulsory movement or dispersion of peoples or children or their placing under living conditions calculated to result in their death or disappearance,
is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from five years to twenty five years, or, in more serious cases, with life imprisonment or death.


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Daniel Berhane

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