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» 07.10.2010 - Ethiopia urged to free all political prisoners
» 25.02.2009 - Eritrea rejects mediation effort to end border row
» 09.07.2008 - Ethiopia "surprised" by fascist monuments in Italy
» 22.06.2008 - Ogaden rebel leader dies
» 15.01.2007 - Ethiopia gears up for millennium party
» 12.12.2006 - Ethiopian ex-dictator found guilty of genocide
» 07.12.2006 - Ethiopia court to decide ex-Dictator's case
» 20.05.2003 - Lutherans pay tribute to slain Ethiopian pastor

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Society | Human rights

Life sentence for ex-Ethiopian dictator

afrol News, 11 January - An Ethiopian court finally delivered a verdict on the 12-year trial of the country's former dictator, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. Having found him guilty of genocide charges, the exiled dictator, who was tried in absentia, has been given a life sentence. He thus avoided an expected death penalty.

Ethiopia's former Marxist leader was also found guilty of illegal imprisonment and abuse of power. Since he was overthrown, Mr Mengistu had been living in Zimbabwe, whose government still rejects to extradite him from his comfortable exile, despite appeals to do so.

The judgment, delivered in the capital Addis Ababa, was a complete departure from the earlier expectation of people, including prosecutors and relatives of the victims of Mengistu's killing spree, who called for death penalty to be slammed on the former Prime Minister and co-defendants.

But the three-man judge ruled that they must temper justice with mercy, which was the reason why the defendants did not get the death penalty. Also, Ethiopia has avoided executions for many years, slowly aiming at abolishing the capital punishment.

"Considering the age of the accused... and the state of their health... the court has rejected the prosecution's call for the death penalty and passed life imprisonment," the court heard.

Outside the court, members of the victims' committee however argued that the 70-year-old Mr Mengistu deserved a death penalty. They vowed to appeal against the verdict.

Besides, the Chief Prosecutor, Yosef Kiros, also said the judgement would be appealed.

During the trial, judges combed through 8,000 pages of testimonies of hundreds of witnesses. Ex-dictator Mengistu was accused of killing thousands of Ethiopians during his "Operation Red Terror".

Mr Mengistu, a lowest ranking soldier, came to power after toppling Emperor Haile Selassie in a bloody coup in 1974.

Since his regime was overthrown by rebels loyal to current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 1991, Mr Mengistu has been living in exile in Zimbabwe, whose leader accorded him with a permanent refugee status and denied requests to extradite him for prosecution.

Zimbabwe President Mugabe said ex-dictator Mengistu would risk deportation only if he makes political comments to the media. The Zimbabwean government holds that Mr Mengistu paid extraordinary services to its black majority's fight against the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith in the 1970s, despite its international obligations to extradite a genocide-convicted person.

During the Ethiopian trial, ex-President Mengistu's Marxist regime was also accused of killing innocent people in 1977 and 1978 under the "Red Terror" campaign. During this brutal campaign, his government arrested its suspected opponents, executed them and threw their bodies into the streets.

Mr Mengitsu - who has been called "the Stalin of Africa" - further was accused of killing his predecessor, Emperor Halie Selassie by strangling. He was said to have buried the lifeless body of Emperor Selassie in a latrine in his palace.

According to charges by the prosecutors, the former revolutionary officials during the coup also killed more than 1,000 people, which included the execution of 60 ministers, top officials and members of the royal family by firing squad.

Ethiopia reportedly experienced hell as soon as the former soldier forced Emperor Halie Selassie from power in 1974. This followed war, brutality and famine in Ethiopia, where the revolutionary government forced peasants into collectivisation, causing a dramatic drop in productivity and an extreme famine.

It was reported that the Mengistu government asked families to pay for the bullets that killed their members when they went to the health facilities to collect bodies of political opponents.

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