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Ethiopia opposition members sentenced to life in prison for election protests

[JURIST] An Ethiopian court sentenced 35 opposition members to life in prison Monday for their roles in mass anti-government demonstrations [JURIST reports]. The opposition members, five of whom were sentenced in absentia were convicted last month of treason and inciting violence. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty [JURIST report]. The court also sentenced six opposition members to sentences ranging from 15 to 18 years, and gave two journalists terms ranging from one to three years in prison. Relatives of the 38 opposition leaders who were in court said Monday that the defendants could be freed in the near future as they have signed a document of apology. The opposition members, most of whom belonged to the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) [party website], offered no defense throughout the trial and have maintained that the charges were politically motivated.

The defendants, who were previously barred from meeting with their defense lawyers [JURIST report], were convicted for inciting the anti-government protests following Ethiopia's contested 2005 elections [JURIST news archive], which were marred by allegations of fraud [JURIST report]. Last October, an Ethiopian inquiry team charged with investigating the demonstrations said that approximately 193 civilians were killed by Ethiopian security forces [JURIST report] during the violence, an estimate nearly three times the official number initially reported by the government. BBC News has more.

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