By Yonas Abiye
Addis Ababa, June 1, 2011 (Ezega.com) - It was just four days ago in which Ethiopia ruling part EPRDF marked the 20th anniversary of the downfall of a 17–year rule of the Derg regime.
Though there was an anticipated rumor of a possible outbreak of public protest against the incumbent party, as some online media had indicated, the day witnessed witnessed no such protest.
Four days later, another history is in the marking with the Ethiopian government declaring a national pardon granting pardon to associates of former Marxist Dictator Mengistu Hailemariam. Top officials and soldiers who were sentenced death penalty three years ago for the accusation of committing genocide and murder of a thousand peopleduring the country's 1970s "Red Terror" campaign are getting reduced sentences.
The new pardon was declared today by Ethiopian President, Girma Woldegiorgis, at the National Palace which revealed that the death sentences that has been passed three years ago for 23 Derg regime’s officials is reduced to life imprisonment.
President Girma indicated that the former Marxist Derg members, who were sentenced to death after they were found guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide, had asked the Ethiopian people and the government pleading clemency.
“With the intention of closing this historical chapter and enabling our fellow citizen speeding up the ongoing development, democracy and good governance with a full capacity and unified sprit; believing its contribution can bring for our unified sprit among our fellows, it is decided to commute the death sentenced that has been passed to 23 Derg officials to life imprisonment,” the President said while reading the declaration in the presence of religious leaders and local media.
In the last three years, a group of the Ethiopian religious leaders has been trying to have the Derg officials pardoned after almost two decades in prison.
The president underscored that the detained Derg officials who are behind the bar at present have confessed and officially taken full responsibility for committing serious crimes against the Ethiopian people, including extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses that resulted in the killings of thousands of Ethiopians.
According to the country’s law, anyone who is guilty of such crime is to be imprisoned for more than 25 years. As a result, many people still expects that the life in prison sentenced would also be changed and the detainees would be freed after some time.
Speaking at the event, Abune Paulos, the head of Ethiopian Orthodox Church Church and member of the religious representatives who addressed forgiveness request of the prisoners to the government called on the government to give a “complete” pardon saying that “There is no half forgiveness”.
“In their pardon request, the prisoners pleaded the government to set them free completely from prison so that they will spend the remaining few years of their life time with their families and beloved ones,” Abune Paulos noted.
Other religious leaders have also urged the government to release these former officials.
Responding the request from religious leaders, President Girma responded immediately adding that they might be released at some point.
“Relevant officials of the judiciary will review the request referring it with the country’s law and legal system”, the President told the religious leaders.
The list of the Derg regime officials who are pardoned includes, Fikre-Silasse Wegderes (Former Ethiopian prime minister), Legesse Asfaw (Who was regared as the Butcher of Tigray), Melaku Teferra (who is famous for his brutal action in Gonder), former vice-president Colonel Fisseha Desta, Tesfaye Welde-Silasse, Gesigis Gebre Meskel and General Legesse Belayneh.
The list also includes, Abdulkadir Mohamed, Petros Gebre, Sileshi Mengesha, Colonel Nadew Zekariayas, Begashaw Atalay, Major General Woubishet Desse, Colonel Endale Tessema and Colonel Debella Dinsa, Argaw Yimer, Degene Wendimagegnew, Eshetu Shenkute, Gessesse Welde –Kidan, Desalegn Belay, Lisanu Molla, Abebe Eshetu and Berihun Mammo.
In his nine-year tenure, Girma has so far approved only one death sentence, the one against the assailant of former Meles Zenaw’s chief of Security and Intelligence, Kinfe Gebremedhin.
Yonas Abiye is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. He can be reached by sending email through this form.