Ethiopia opposition leader charged
18 February 2014, 13:20
Addis Ababa - An Ethiopian opposition leader charged with contempt of court after writing an article critical of the country's judiciary has been released from jail with a conditional sentence, officials said on Monday.
Asrat Tase, a senior member of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was arrested on 7 February after publishing an article accusing the Ethiopian justice system of being biased toward the government.
"The court tried him summarily and they found him guilty," government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told AFP.
The spokesperson said the opposition figure was charged with contempt of court and has now been released, but he has been given a suspended sentence meaning he can be automatically jailed for five months for committing any crime.
"If the person commits another crime that sentence will automatically be reactivated," Shimeles said.
UDJ spokesperson Habtamu Ayalew condemned the sentence as unconstitutional, and accused the government of breaching its own laws to stifle freedom of speech.
"Any person can write or can speak according to the Ethiopian constitution, so when he wrote and criticised the justice how can he be arrested?," Habtamu told AFP.
Ethiopia has been accused of stifling political dissent and gagging political rivals in the past.
Several opposition members and journalists are jailed under the country's anti-terrorism legislation, which rights groups have criticised as vague and far-reaching.
Around 200 people were killed in protests during the 2005 elections, including anti-government demonstrators.
There is only one opposition member of parliament in Ethiopia, which is to hold federal elections in May 2015.