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Ethiopian Political Scientist Taye Woldesmiate Released from Prison
May 14, 2002

On the morning of May 14, 2002, Dr. Taye Woldesmiate was released from Karchale prison in Addis Ababa on appeal, after spending almost six years in prison. He reportedly was met outside the prison by a large crowd of supporters, including family members, journalists, and members of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA), of which Dr. Taye is president. On Friday, May 10, 2002, Dr. Taye's 15-year prison sentence was overturned on appeal before the High Court, and the judge reportedly issued an apology to him, stating that his 15-year sentence had been based on the wrong article of the Ethiopian criminal code. Instead, he said, the charges against Dr. Taye stipulated a maximum sentence of only five years. We understand that his actual release from the prison was delayed by four days to allow for all of the necessary paperwork to be completed.

Dr. Taye was arrested on May 30, 1996, and formally charged with terrorism and armed conspiracy against the government. It is believed that the actual reason for his arrest, however, was his peaceful activities as president of the ETA. The ETA is an independent union with 120,000 members. As president, Dr. Taye was especially vocal about the need for peace and democratic change in Ethiopia. In the early 1990s, the ETA became a target of government repression when it peacefully protested against education policy changes made by the government. In 1993, Dr. Taye was dismissed from his position at the University of Addis Ababa--along with 41 other university professors and staff--after signing a letter condemning violence used by government security forces in response to a student demonstration on campus against the independence referendum on Eritrea. Following a three-year trial, during which no credible evidence was produced to support the charges against him, Dr. Taye was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was denied credit for the time he had already served during the three-year trial. Subsequently the court granted Dr. Taye an appeal hearing, originally scheduled for August 1, 2001. The hearing was postponed nine times until the verdict was finally handed down last Friday.

During most of his incarceration Dr. Taye was held under extremely harsh conditions which included lengthy solitary confinement, greatly reduced family visits, being handcuffed regularly, and being held in an unsanitary, overcrowded, and poorly ventilated cell with some 200 other prisoners. In September 2001, Dr. Taye was relocated to a private and more comfortable cell as a result of an agreement between the Dutch and Ethiopian governments. The Dutch authorities, who were working with the Ethiopian government to improve the education program in the Ethiopian prison system, reportedly agreed to provide funding for the program only if Dr. Taye was appointed its coordinator. Dr. Taye accepted the position with the understanding that he would be allowed to meet regularly with the teachers who would be assisting him in implementing the program.