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Cablegate: Ethiopia: Video Phase of Cud Trial Concludes

VZCZCXRO6707
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #1788/01 1812150
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 302150Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1378
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 001788

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E DESK OFFICER MIKE GONZALES AND AF/E
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: VIDEO PHASE OF CUD TRIAL CONCLUDES
WITHOUT CONVINCING EVIDENCE

REF: ADDIS ABABA 1645

1. (U) SUMMARY: The prosecution wrapped up the video phase
of evidence in its case against detained opposition Coalition
for Unity and Democracy (CUD) leaders, independent
journalists and civil society representatives on June 26.
The final four videos had nothing more damning than those
videos previously shown. The final video, which was a sort
of highlight reel of the worst CUD comments from the other 18
tapes, was thrown out for being &inappropriate8 as
evidence. The audiocassette stage comes next, and may take
only a few days. It does not appear that the trial will
finish before the court goes on summer recess in August and
September, however. In the meantime, defendants continue to
have health problems resulting from prison conditions. END
SUMMARY.

2. (U) International observers continue to attend all trial
sessions. In addition to USG rep, the European Union and
United Nations have representatives present nearly every day,
as well as a rotation of representatives from various
European embassies. In addition, Lawyers Without Borders
(LWOB) representatives from the US have been attending the
trial daily with a local LWOB attorney.

------------------------------------
DEFENDANTS, HEALTH BECOMING AN ISSUE
------------------------------------

3. (U) Defendants who are present in court continue to appear
mostly healthy and in good spirits. However, a number of
defendants have missed court appearances due to health
related issues in the last two weeks, even leading to
adjournment of court for the June 21 session, because 8
defendants were out sick. Notably, Maj. Getachew Mengiste
has missed several days for surgery for what he had described
as a life threatening illness. Pregnant journalist Serkalem
Fassil has also been out for an extended period, but has
delivered her baby, which is reported to be underweight but
otherwise healthy.

4. (U) More recently, defendant Berhanu Nega was hospitalized
for two weeks for serious respiratory problems. Though he
has since been discharged and is attending court sessions
again, his wife (an Amcit opthamalogist) told Poloff that the
combination of Berhanu,s prior health history and the poor
conditions in which he is kept at the prison, put him at risk
for serious illness. Kidist Bekele, another defendant
complaining of health issues, announced to the court on June
27 that she is suffering from serious medical conditions
stemming from her epilepsy. (NOTE: She looked very sick and
had trouble standing and talking.) She claimed that doctors
had given her instructions to seek full-time help in a
specialized hospital, but that to date she has been permitted
only to visit the police hospital and only twice per week.
"If I die because of this, it will be the court's fault,8
she told the bench. The judge ordered the prison officials
to &do something as soon as possible8 about her situation.

---------------------------------------------
A ROUGH ENDING TO VIDEO STAGE FOR PROSECUTION
---------------------------------------------

5. (U) Despite the prosecution's withdrawal of 7 of the final
9 videocassettes that were to be shown (reftel), the
prosecutor on June 12 announced that they wished to introduce
3 new videos which were not originally listed on the evidence
list. Though the defense attorneys objected, the judge,
quoting the criminal procedure code, permitted them to be
shown.

6. (U) Only two of the new videos were eventually allowed to
be presented, while the third was thrown out by the court.
Shortly after the presentation of the third and final tape
began (which was essentially a highlight reel of quotes and
clips from the other videos that have been presented), the
defense attorneys objected complaining that the video had a
&very biased tone,8 that it was impossible to know the
context of the quotes since they were only 10-15 second
soundbites, and that the evidence was redundant, as most of
the footage was from videos already shown in court in their
entirety. The bench, after a adjourning for a day, decided
to disallow the tape on grounds that the footage had already
been presented in court. The judge further pointed out that

ADDIS ABAB 00001788 002 OF 003


when they initially permitted it to be shown, that they
assumed that it would contain entirely new footage. The
prosecution withdrew the tape and announced that it is moving
on the audiocassette phase of the trial.

7 (SBU) After being denied permission to show the video, the
prosecution prepared copies of the disallowed footage, with
written explanation of the content, and presented them to
international observers at the end of the following session
of court. The prosecution told the international observers
that they regretted not being able to show them in court.


-----------------------
AUDIO PHASE TO BE BRIEF
-----------------------

8. (U) Though the prosecution had originally submitted 11
audio tapes for evidence, they currently have plans to play
only one - an interview with Hailu Shawel on Tinsae Ethiopia
Radio on October 15, 20005. There was no explanation of
whether they will eventually decide to play the other 10 or
why they currently have no plans to present them.


--------------------------------------------- ----
SUMMER BREAK FOR THE BENCH, BUT NOT FOR DETAINEES
--------------------------------------------- ----

9. (SBU) According to Michael Ellman, the permanent observer
assigned by the European Union for the trial, head judge Adil
Ahmed Abdullahi told him that the there is little hope for an
end to the trial before the court recess, now planned for
August and September. Post recently issued a visa to Adil
for a 4-5 week trip to the US for work and family reasons,
beginning July 30. He will be traveling on an Ethiopian
Embassy program, together with other Ethiopian judges, for a
12 day program focused "on the judicial system."

----------------------------------
VIDEO EVIDENCE ON GENOCIDE CHARGES
----------------------------------

10. (U) On June 15 the prosecutor presented a video of a
pre-election rally (no date given) in Oromia. The prosecutor
said it showed defendant Bedru Adem inciting violence against
Tigreans and argued that this was proof of the charge against
him of attempted genocide. Indeed the video did show Bedru
pointing out that Tigreans have the lions share of government
authority and questioning &why with 35% of the population -
Oromos only have grassroots positions of authority8 in
comparison with Tigrean government ministers. However he
prefaced these statements with the remark, "I have great
respect and love for the people of Tigray.8 As has been the
case, Ethiopian Television (ETV), which reports nightly on
the trial, featured a story highlighting the charges made by
the prosecution against Bedru, but did not summarize any of
the content of the video. This caused Bedru to complain in
the following court session that, even though the judges had
ruled that ETV must present a fair and unbiased report of the
daily proceedings (reftel), they have not done so. He asked
the judge to pressure ETV further in order to put a stop to
this type of reporting. After deliberation, the judge denied
Bedru,s request, stating that he &can do nothing more to
dictate the journalists8 and he stated that it is difficult
to summarize a three-hour video in a brief television
broadcast.

11. (U) The other three tapes - one of Mesfin Woldemariam
giving a speech at pre-May election 2005 political debate,
and two tapes of footage of CUD Supreme Council meetings to
decide on whether to join the parliament and negotiation
strategy with the EPRDF ) made little obvious headway in
establishing concrete evidence against the accused. In
Mesfin,s speech, he made wide ranging comments on state of
democratic systems and the constitution in Ethiopia. This
was punctuated by criticism of the EPRDF,s human rights
record and the autocratic manner in which the country has
been governed since the party came to power. Mesfin,s
point was that &democratic systems are ruled by law, not by
individuals,8 which is fundamental to the constitution. He
listed large numbers of people he claimed had been killed in
recent years by the government, and yet the government had
&never seen a courtroom.8 Mesfin was not critical of the

ADDIS ABAB 00001788 003 OF 003


constitution itself, however; his speech was more of a
defense of the constitution against what the EPRDF had
(allegedly) been doing to it. He went on to preach about the
benefits of democracy and how it was preferable to any other
system, in part because over time, governments are forced to
&self-correct8 problems in the system.

12. (U) The footage of the CUD Supreme Council meetings
primarily centered on the consequences of the CUD,s decision
on whether to join the parliament. There was some
dissension among Council members about whether there would be
violent unrest among supporters as a result, or whether the
situation would remain relatively peaceful. Although all
agreed that by joining parliament they were in effect lending
legitimacy to the EPRDF government, many were worried that by
boycotting parliament, their offices would be closed, the CUD
party banned, and violent uprising by the public would
follow. Behanu Nega argued that &there is nothing beyond
peaceful struggle and a member who sees otherwise is not a
part of this (CUD) party.8 He also claimed that &there will
be no revolution.8 Another major point of discussion among
members was whether to push for inclusion of the 299
constituencies that the CUD claimed it had won in the May
elections, in addition to other demands, as a condition for
joining parliament. Essentially, by forcing &the 299
issue,8 they concluded that they would likely remain out of
parliament and thus not be representing the voters that did
in fact elect them. At the same time, failing to raise this
issue would not be fair to those whose votes were &stolen.8
In the end, the CUD Supreme Council chose not to press the
EPRDF on this issue. At no point did anyone call for violent
struggle, armed resistance or an overthrow of the
constitutional system, as had been suggested by the
prosecutor.

--------------------------------------------- -------
COMMENT: HEAVY BURDEN NOW ON WITNESSES AND DOCUMENTS
--------------------------------------------- -------

13. (SBU) The video phase of evidence ended much as it began
- with little concrete evidence against the defendants on the
charges raised by the prosecution. To date, the videos have
clearly demonstrated that the CUD party was unwilling to
accept the results of the May 2005 election, that they were
unwilling to join the parliament unless the EPRDF made
significant concessions, and that the party had a great deal
of support at rallies in areas in and around Addis Ababa.
Videos also showed the devastation caused by the June and
November uprisings, but drew no direct link to any of the
detainees. It is difficult find evidence that supports the
charge of &attempted genocide,8 though the tape of Bedru
Adem's comments did document the anti-Tigrayan rhetoric
employed by the CUD during the campaign. In general,
however, CUD leaders maintained a consistent line in the
videos in favor of non-violent struggle. The burden now
falls to written documents and witness testimony to link the
defendants more persuasively with the charges they face.
HUDDLESTON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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