Mesfin Woldemariam

Mesfin Woldemariam

Mesfin Woldemariam (also spelled Mesfin Wolde Mariam; born 1930) is an Ethiopian peace activist and philosopher, who has been actively engaged in a peaceful movement to bring justice, equality and peace for all the people in his country. He is a founding member of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC), and later founded the Rainbow Ethiopia: Movement for Democracy and Social Justice.

Mesfin Woldemariam has won numerous awards for his struggle for equality and justice to the disadvantaged in his country. In 2006, he was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, the highest European Unions prize for human rights defenders.

Early life

Born in Addis Ababa, Mesfin received his early education at Teferi Mekonnen School, and was a student of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, receiving ordination as a deacon in 1946. He completed his further education in London in 1951, and won a scholarship to study abroad. He received his B.A. from Punjab University, Chandigarh in 1955 and his M.S. from Clark University in the United States in 1957.

Mesfin was professor of geography at Haile Sellassie University (now Addis Ababa University or AAU), and for a time the head of the geography department. He was also a senior Fullbright scholar in 1971, 1986 and 1987. He retired from AAU in 1991.

Political activism

Responding to a student petition, on 8 April 2001 Mesfin and Berhanu Nega held a day-long panel discussion at the hall of the National Lottery on academic freedom. They were arrested on the allegations that this panel incited a student protest at AAU the next day, but released on bail 5 June and neither were ever tried.

In November 2005, the government of Ethiopia detained Mesfin on charges of treason, genocide, and outrage against the constitution, along with other leading members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). This charge was considered to criminalize actions of free speech, freedom of association and freedom of expression that are guaranteed by international human rights laws, and has been condemned by many international observers including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and European Union. He was held at Kaliti prison. During his incarceration, Mesfin took part in two hunger strikes in December 2005 and January 2006, protesting his detention and trial. He later contracted pneumonia, collapsing in his prison cell August 18, and was taken to the hospital. The court was supposed to deliver the verdict on February 19, 2007. However, Mesfin Woldemariam, and 37 others were pronounced guilty on June 11, 2007.

This judgment occurred after Mesfin refused to defend himself, insisting that the arrest, charges, detention and trial was politically motivated and that the trial was not likely to be fair. Along with 37 others, he was convicted on the basis of the prosecution evidence and prevented from making a statement in court after the prosecution case ended. The prosecutor is said to have presented video and audio evidence. The judge ruled that as they had not submitted a defense and were guilty as charged.

Mesfin, along with the 37 other Ethiopian opposition party officials, prominent human rights defenders and journalists on trial with him, were freed on July 20, 2007. They received a pardon and had their political rights restored four days after most were sentenced to life in prison and others to prison terms of up to 15 years. Despite previous denials, his CUD party leaders who were released admitted that they played a role in the post election violence and accepted partial responsibility. Referring to the apology letter that Mesfin Woldemariam and other CUD leaders signed, Hailu Araaya, a CUD spokesman told VOA News during a visit to Washington D.C. that it was signed voluntarily.

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Mesfin Woldemariam, Woldemariam, political activist, activists, Famous Ethiopians, Famous Ethiopians

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