The Washington Post

Ethiopian Prisoners Sign Paper in Bid for Release


- — Stephanie McCrummen

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Ethiopian opposition leaders jailed in a brutal crackdown following 2005 elections have signed a document accepting partial responsibi­lity for the violence in exchange for their release, senior U.S. and Ethiopian officials said.

Only some of the 38 political detainees, whom Amnesty Internatio­nal has called prisoners of conscience, have agreed to sign the document. Others, including the senior opposition leaders, have refused, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are involved in the discussion­s.

Those who signed could be freed within days, the officials said.

Negotiatio­ns on the prisoners’ release have proceeded despite their conviction last week on charges including “outrage against the constituti­on” and aggravated high treason in a trial that human rights groups and some U.S. officials condemned as a sham. The prisoners are to be sentenced in July and could face the death penalty.

The prisoners’ families have accused the United States of softening its criticism of Ethiopia’s human rights record because the country is a key military ally in the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

The 2005 elections were generally hailed as free and fair, and the opposition made significan­t gains. But when opposition members took to the streets to protest some of the results, Ethiopian security forces, including sharpshoot­ers, responded with massive force, arresting about 30,000 protesters and killing at least 193 people.

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