Medical Action Alert 48: (Ethiopia)

(February 22, 1995)

Professor Asrat Woldeyes, MD

Action: Physicians for Human Rights calls for letters requesting the release of an Ethiopian medical professor who is imprisoned in violation of his human rights. Please write letters on your professional or personal letterhead. Your prompt attention can make a difference. Please send us copies of your letters by e-mail or by post. Physicians for Human Rights, 100 Boylston Street, Suite 702, Boston MA 02116 USA. Tel (617) 695-0041. Fax (617) 695-0307. E-mail: phrusa@igc.apc.org

Dr. Asrat Woldeyes, a 65-year-old Ethiopian physician and former dean of Addis Ababa University Medical School, is serving a five and one-half year sentence on charges of conspiracy to organize armed rebellion and incite violence against the government. The charges stem from his activities with the opposition group All-Amhara People~s Organization (AAPO), which maintains that it is committed only to nonviolent activities.

Dr. Asrat and four other members of the opposition group All-Amhara People's Organization (AAPO) were arrested on July 19, 1993. Dr. Asrat was released on bail on August 31, 1993 pending the outcome of the trial. His co-defendants (Sileshi Mulatu, AAPO's office manager; Teshome Bimerew, a student at Addis Ababa University; Chane Alemrew, a former military official; and Ambelu Mekonnen, a farmer) remained in prison until sentencing, as the Supreme Court turned down a lower court's decision to release them on bail. They were charged with holding a meeting at the AAPO's office nine months earlier where they were alleged to have planned violent attacks against the government.

All of the defendants have denied any plans for violent attacks. The meeting they held, they said, was to discuss complaints the AAPO had received of abuses by government soldiers and pro-government militias against AAPO supporters and people of Amhara nationality. Amnesty International (AI) has concerns about the fairness of the trial, as evidence and statements by witnesses presented in court were not corroborated. AI states that "the five convicted prisoners appear to have been imprisoned on the basis of slander and dubious evidence and without direct proof of the alleged conspiracy." They all were sentenced on June 27, 1994 to two years in prison. Amnesty International considers Dr. Asrat Woldeyes to be a prisoner of conscience.

Dr. Asrat, a highly-respected surgeon, received his medical training in Scotland and is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and Scotland. He retired as a surgeon in 1991. He then formed and led the All-Amhara People's Organization. AAPO was founded to defend the interests of the Amhara people and to promote unity in Ethiopia. The organization is one of many ethnic-based political groupings in Ethiopia. The government and state-controlled media have harassed opposition political groups, including the AAPO, and accused the AAPO of "war-mongering" without producing evidence to substantiate their allegations. Between 1992 and 1994, Dr. Asrat was regularly summoned to court to answer charges of advocating violence against the government.

On October 27, 1994, Dr. Asrat was sentenced to six more months in prison for contempt of court, because of an open letter he reportedly wrote to the court dismissing his lawyers on the grounds that he had no hope for a fair trial. On December 27, 1994, Dr. Asrat was sentenced to an additional three years in prison when the Central High Court convicted him on additional charges of incitement against the government. Amnesty International is still investigating the reasons for this sentencing. He has not appealed his sentence. He is currently held in Central Prison (Karchele) in Addis Ababa in a cell with 100 common criminals.

Request: U.S. residents - Please write courteous letters to the following officials. Your letters should be sent before mid-April 1995. National elections are scheduled for May 7, 1995 and the officials you write to now may change after the elections. Airmail letters cost 50 cents.

1) President Meles Zenawi (salutation: Your Excellency), Office of the President, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Fax: 011-251-1-514-300 c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2) His Excellency Berhane Gebre-Christos (salutation: Your Excellency), Embassy of Ethiopia, 2134 Kalorama Road NW, Washington DC 20008.

3) Your Congressional representatives asking them to raise the issue with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose.

Nationals of other countries and residents outside of the United States - Please address your appeals to the appropriate officials in your country of residence.

In your letters, you should:

1) Express concern about the arrest and sentencing of Dr. Asrat Woldeyes.

2) Express concern that elements of Dr. Asrat Woldeyes~ trial did not conform to international standards for a fair trial.

3) Urge that Dr. Asrat Woldeyes be immediately and unconditionally released from prison as he appears to be imprisoned because of his nonviolent opposition to the government.

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