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New on the Freedom Collection: Birtukan Midekssa

Article by Christopher Walsh August 3, 2012 //   2 minute read

Watch the new Freedom Collection interview with Birtukan Midekssa, a former federal judge and democratic opposition leader from Ethiopia.  Known as the “Aung San Suu Kyi of Ethiopia”, Birtukan has endured considerable prison time for her belief in democratic principles.  She received a life sentence after her then party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won an unprecedented number of seats in the country’s 2005 parliamentary elections.  Pardoned in 2007 and undeterred by her incarceration, Birtukan founded the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party only to be arrested again in 2008 for allegedly violating the terms of her pardon.  After two more years in prison, she was released and then selected as a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, D.C. Even before the repressive policies of the Ethiopian government drove her to politics, Birtukan was distinguished by her legal career and devotion to the rule of law.  As a judge, Birtukan demonstrated her resilience to government pressure when she presided over a high profile corruption case against Defense Minister Siye Abraha, who had fallen out of favor with the autocracy.  While it would have been easy to bend to the regime’s will and find him guilty, Birtukan defied them in her ruling that there was insufficient evidence for conviction and released Abraha.  Commenting on the situation, Birtukan said, “And for me, those cases, of course, I knew the political sensitivity, I knew the expectation of the government, I knew what I would do would have a serious consequence about my professional career and my future in the institutions. But you know, I couldn’t have done it different.” Watch her interview here. This post was written by Christopher Walsh, Program Coordinator of the Freedom Collection.

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