Ethiopia lifts death penalty for over 20 former Derg officials
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
June2, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) - The Ethiopian government withdrew death sentences for over 23 senior officials from the Derg military regime.
Ethiopian President, Girma Woldegiorgis, on Wednesday announced the clemency at an occasion held in the National Palace, where he said the death sentences against the former Derg members would be lifted and reduced to life imprisonment.
The Derg, a committee of military officers, ruled the country from 1974 until 1987 executing and imprisoning tens of thousands of its opponents without trial. Despite officially dispanding in 1987 the Derg’s leader Mengistu Hailemariam remained president until he was deposed by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991.
Over the past few years, a group of the Ethiopian religious leaders and other influential figures have been lobbying the government for the pardon of the former Derg officials who were sentenced to death on charges of genocide.
At the occasion President, Girma Woldegiorgis said the move was in response to subject’s submitted request for pardon and to close the dark historical chapter and open a new spirit of national unity.
The decision was made effective from May 28, 2011, the day Ethiopia ruling EPRDF party marked the 20th anniversary of the downfall of a 17- year rule of the former Marxist-Leninist regime.
The pardon grant does not include to the former Ethiopian president, Mengistu Hailemariam, who led the horn of Africa country with an iron fist from 1977 until the junta was overthrown in 1991.
Mengistu who currently lives in exile in Zimbabwe, under the protection of President Robert Mugabe, was sentenced to death in absentia three years ago.
The former Derg officials had been found guilty of genocide, mass murder, torture and other brutal activities against innocent people and have been in prison for almost 20 years now. According to Ethiopian law, life imprisonment means a sentence of at least 25 years behind bars. - (ST)