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
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.