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Cablegate: Government Releases Political Prisoner On

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OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2116/01 2170924
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O 040924Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1535
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 002116

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM KJUS PGOV PREL ET
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT RELEASES POLITICAL PRISONER ON
WASHINGTON PRESSURE

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Seven days after Assistant Secretary of State for
Democracy, Rights, and Labor David Kramer asked senior
Ethiopian Government (GoE) officials to grant political
detainee Assefa Abraha parole in accordance with standard
Ethiopian judicial practice, the GoE released the former
senior official on July 31 after over seven years in prison.
The release highlights the effectiveness of respectful and
private, yet clear and direct, bilateral engagement by senior
USG officials in pressing the GoE on adhering to the rule of
law in managing domestic political space. End Summary.

BACKGROUND
----------

2. (SBU) Prior to the 2001 rift within the ruling Tigrayan
People's Liberation Front's (TPLF) Central Committee, Assefa
Abraha headed the office of Government Development
Organizations in the Office of the Prime Minister and served
from 1995-2001 as the Chairman of the Board of the Ethiopian
Privatization Agency. After opposing the Prime Minister in
2001, former Defense Minister (and now independent political
opposition leader) Seeye Abraha and four of his siblings,
including Assefa Abraha, were imprisoned and prosecuted on
corruption charges in May 2001. Despite Assefa's non-guilty
plea, the Ethiopian High Court finally convicted him in July
2007 on two charges for selling two GoE organizations slated
for privatization below their market value. The court
sentenced Assefa to nine years in prison. The fact that
Assefa, his brother Seeye, three other siblings, and several
other former senior GoE officials who opposed the Prime
Minister in 2001 were immediately and systematically
imprisoned and convicted of corruption -- combined with the
fact that the sale of the two properties for which Assefa was
convicted was approved by the entire nine-member Board of the
Privatization Agency and approved by the Prime Minister --
give credence to the view that these detentions and
convictions were politically motivated.

USG INTERVENTION
----------------

3. (SBU) While Seeye Abraha and his other siblings were
released in 2007, Assefa remained in prison. Standard
Ethiopian judicial practice dictates that Ethiopian convicts
shall be released on parole upon serving two-thirds of their
sentence with good behavior. Despite having served
two-thirds of his sentence by May 2007 -- two months prior to
his final conviction and sentencing -- Assefa was never
subjected to a parole review. Members of the diplomatic
community have hypothesized that by continuing to hold
Assefa, the GoE effectively kept his brother Seeye from
taking too strong of a stance in opposition politics. (Note:
Seeye has explicitly told Ambassador and EmbOffs that
Assefa's sustained detention has impeded him from taking a
more formal opposition political role or from joining an
established opposition party. End Note). Since being
released Seeye has actively sought USG support to urge the
GoE to grant Assefa parole and to protest the 24-hour
surveillance focused on himself. Ambassador Yamamoto has
raised the case with Prime Minister Meles twice in recent
months.

4. (SBU) Seeye conveyed Assefa's case to DRL A/S Kramer on
July 23, requesting Kramer's intervention. On July 24, A/S
Kramer and Pol/Econ Chief raised the case with EPRDF Central
Committee member and Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister
Bereket Simon. In response to A/S Kramer's inquiry whether
there was a possibility of positive GoE consideration for
Assefa's case, Bereket argued that the judiciary decided
Assefa's case, found him guilty of corruption, and the GoE
had no right to intervene. Bereket went on to argue that if
the GoE were to consider "pardoning" someone convicted of
corruption, it would have to do so for all such convicts and
not on a case-by-case basis. Pol/Econ Chief interjected to
clarify that the USG was not requesting a pardon for Assefa,
but rather that he be subjected to the same standard judicial
practice of granting parole to those convicts who have served
over two-thirds of their sentences with good behavior. With
this additional detail about the case, Bereket conceded that

ADDIS ABAB 00002116 002 OF 002


Assefa's parole case should be considered. Seven days later,
on July 31, prison officials called Assefa to the
administrative office to inform him of his immediate release.

COMMENT
-------

5. (SBU) The release of Assefa Abraha highlights the
effectiveness of respectful and private, yet clear and
direct, bilateral engagement by senior USG officials in
pressing the GoE on adhering to the rule of law in managing
domestic political space. Bereket's tactic of attempting to
redirect the conversation by presenting not-wholly-accurate
or relevant details, however, is also a recurring dynamic in
senior GoE dialogue with visiting USG officials. By
distracting USG interlocutors with obscure and stylized
details about any given case, GoE officials often succeed in
deflecting pressure by visiting USG principals away from the
fundamental issues at hand. In the case of Assefa Abraha,
the combination of senior Washington engagement along with
the familiarity of the details of the case presented by
Embassy staff presented the necessary mix to secure a
positive result. End Comment.
YAMAMOTO

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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