Ethiopia detains 3 men linked to top opposition politician

Associated Press / September 14, 2007
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Authorities have detained three Ethiopians linked to a top opposition politician, accusing them of trying to create a disturbance during the country's millennium celebrations, a fourth man who was released said Friday.

Nebiyu Bazezew, a 28-year-old banker, said that three of his friends had been arrested in the capital on Tuesday night, when celebrations for Wednesday's millennium began, and held without charge.

After attempting to see the men, Bazezew was held incommunicado for three hours of questioning on Friday, but was released without being told why he had been detained. He was informed by police that his friends were being investigated for trying to cause a disturbance at millennium celebrations, he said, but given no further information on the circumstances of their arrest. Ethiopia follows a Christian calendar seven years behind the one most of the rest of the world uses.

Authorities were not immediately available for comment due to the millennium holiday, which was extended over several days. The three men still in prison were scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, Bazezew said.

"It was more than scary. Nobody knew I was there. In a country where we talk about civil rights, I wasn't even registered, and I wasn't told why I was there," Bazezew said.

His three friends have not been charged. Under Ethiopian law, suspects must be charged within 48 hours, although the holiday may have delayed their case.

Bazezew said the only connection between the four men was fundraising efforts to buy a car for Birtukan Mideksa in August. Birtukan, a top opposition politician, was among 38 opposition members released from prison last July. They had been held for more than two years after security forces shot 193 civilians protesting electoral fraud. The trial attracted international condemnation and strong pressure from the United States to free the accused, who emerged from prison with strong support in many of their neighborhoods. Such support motivated a group in the neighborhood to buy Mideksa a car, Bazezew said.

Bazezew said his arrest was "obviously" political but could offer no further explanation.

Ethiopia has attracted growing criticism from human rights organizations as it cracks down on political dissidents and rebel groups. The east African nation is currently fighting an insurgency in the remote northern region, and rebels say the army is carrying out reprisals against a civilian population.