ActionAid appeals for release of two anti-poverty campaigners detained in Ethiopia

ActionAid is appealing for the immediate and unconditional release of two anti-poverty activists, one a staff member and one a close partner of ActionAid, who are being held without charge in Ethiopia.

The two men, Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie, were among a number of civil society activists arrested in early November. ActionAid insists that Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie have done nothing illegal, nor were they involved in any unconstitutional activities. They have been brought to court twice but never charged. Their next court appearance is on Friday 16 December.

On a visit to London, Fikre Zewdie, director of ActionAid Ethiopia, said: "Daniel, who works for ActionAid, and Netsanet, who heads one of our closest partner organisations, are dedicated to eradicating poverty and injustice through non-violent social change. They have worked to improve the lives of Ethiopia's poorest people through legitimate social activism. This kind of activity is protected by the constitution and cannot be characterised as anti-state."

Daniel Bekele is a lawyer and heads ActionAid's policy team in Ethiopia. Netsanet Demessie is executive director of Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE). The two activists appear to have attracted the attention of the Ethiopian authorities by campaigning for civil society monitoring of the national elections in May, demanding amendments to a new Ethiopian law on non-governmental organisations, and helping to organise Ethiopia's part of the Global Call to Action against Poverty, a worldwide movement supported by the UN Millennium Campaign, of which MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY is a part.

Since their arrest, Daniel and Netsanet have been denied their constitutional entitlement to bail, and they have had very limited access to their lawyers.

Fikre Zewdie said: "Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demessie have now been detained without charge for more than 40 days. Their continued detention is causing untold psychological suffering for the detained men, their families and fellow ActionAid staff. Daniel and Netsanet must be given full access to lawyers to prepare their defence. To avoid prejudice, any trials of civil society activists should be separate from those of politicians. However, we believe there is no case to answer and both men should be released immediately."