Ethiopia court denies bail to rights activists

Ethiopia court denies bail to rights activists





              ADDIS ABABA, May 10 (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court has denied bail to two prominent

              human rights activists charged with inciting student riots last month, the state news agency

              reported on Thursday. 


              Up to 41 people were killed in the violence. 


              Mesfin Woldemariam and Berhanu Nega, both academics at Addis Ababa University,

              were arrested this week and charged with stoking student protests demanding academic

              and political freedoms. The protests degenerated into the capital's worst rioting in years. 


              Police opposed their bail application on the grounds that it could interfere with their

              investigations, and on Wednesday the High Court in Addis Ababa ruled that the two men

              be held in custody until May 18, the Ethiopian News Agency reported. 


              Mesfin, 72, is a founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a professor and author of

              several books. Berhanu is a prominent economist and lecturer. 


              The April 18 disturbances were triggered by a confrontation between police and student

              demonstrators on the campus. 


              That quickly led to an orgy of looting by unemployed youths and spread to a number of

              colleges and schools around the Horn of Africa country on April 18 and 19. 


              The government has put the death toll at 31 and blames most of the violence on what it

              called gangsters and jobless youths. Medical sources say 41 people were killed and

              hundreds wounded. 


              New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Ethiopian security forces of using

              excessive force in dealing with the protests and using them as an excuse for cracking down

              on all government critics. 


              "The government's heavy-handed tactics have enflamed what began as a peaceful local

              student protest into a violent national crisis," said HRW's Saman Zia-Zarifi in a statement on

              Thursday. "The attacks on academic freedom have now degenerated into a wholesale

              assault on civil society in Ethiopia." 


              Zia-Zarifi said that apart from Mesfin and Woldemariam, several dozen other members of

              civil and political groups critical of the government had been arrested since the riots.