By William Davison
June 3, 2012 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s opposition Oromo People’s Congress accused the government of making up charges against one of its former lawmakers as part of a broader case against 69 defendants, party leader Merera Gudina said.
“All the charges are trumped up,” Merera said in a phone interview today from the capital, Addis Ababa, after appearing at the Federal High Court as a witness in the trial.
The defendants, all ethnic Oromos, were charged under Ethiopia’s criminal code in May last year with attacking the “integrity” of the country’s government or territory, London-based Amnesty International, a rights advocacy group, said in a January report. The trial is part of a crackdown against dissent by the government, Amnesty said in the report.
The 69 are accused of having links with the banned Oromo Liberation Front, or OLF, Merera said.The OLF has been fighting for the autonomy of the Oromos, Ethiopia’s most populous ethnicity, since 1973, according to its website. The rebel group and the Oromo People’s Congress are opposed to each other, according to Merera.“Their major strategy is armed struggle, we are a registered political party,” he said.
One of the defendants, Asfaw Angassu, was a former member of the federal parliament for the party, Merera said. Prosecutors presented a “prima facie” case to judges, State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal said today. “Contrary to their registered purpose, they have been found trying to defeat the Oromia region unlawfully,” he said by phone from the capital. “If the evidence is not reversed, it will warrant their conviction.”
Ethiopia’s government has arrested 108 opposition party members and six journalists for terrorism-related offenses since March 2011, Amnesty said in January.