[JURIST] Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [BBC profile] announced pardons Friday for 38 opposition members and journalists sentenced to prison for their roles in mass anti-government demonstrations [JURIST report]. The pardons were issued after the government received letters of apology from the defendants. The opposition members, most of whom belong to the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) [party website], offered no defense throughout their trial and have maintained that the charges against them were politically motivated. CUD opposition leader Hailu Shawel, who was among the released, dismissed the sincerity of his letter of apology, saying he was forced to sign the document.
On Monday, six opposition members were sentenced [JURIST report] to terms ranging from 15 to 18 years, while two journalists were given terms ranging from one to three years. The Ethiopian court also sentenced 35 opposition members, five in absentia, to life in prison. The five defendants have not been pardoned. The defendants were convicted of treason and inciting violence [JURIST reports] during anti-government protests that followed 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. AP has more.