President Sahle-worq Commutes Death Penalty of Ex-Dergue Officials to Life Imprisonment

President Sahle-worq Commutes Death Penalty of Ex-Dergue Officials to Life Imprisonment

Brehanu Bayeh (left) and Addis Tedla.

(addisfortune)—President Sahle-worq Zewde has approved a motion to commute the death penalty of two former Dergue officials who have been sheltered inside the Italian Embassy in the capital to sentences of life imprisonment. The commutation may allow the officials to be released on parole, according to people who follow the case.

The President has approved the motion that was tabled by the Office of the Attorney General, which regularly sends the list of death row prisoners every half year to the President’s Office. Currently, there are a total of 241 death row inmates in the country.

The President signed the letter on November 11, but it was dispatched a week later, Fikadu Seboka, protocol and communications director at the President’s Office, confirmed to Fortune.

Berhanu Bayeh (Col.) and Addis Tedla (Lt. Gen.) have been sheltered inside the premises of the Italian Embassy since 1991, a day before forces of the EPRDF took control of Addis Abeba. Berhanu served as Foreign Minister for three years from 1986, while Addis was the Chief of General Staff.

After the Dergue regime fell, four leaders took refuge inside the Embassy, while many of the Dergue officials surrendered themselves to the rebels. Former acting Prime Minister Hailu Yimenu and the Military Commander in Eritrea, Tesfaye Gebrekidan, died while living in the Embassy. The latter was also president of Ethiopia for a week after Mengistu Hailemariam (Col.) left for Zimbabwe, where he still lives in exile. The survivors were sentenced to death in absentia for their alleged role in killings committed under the Dergue regime.

Despite repeated requests from the government, the Italian authorities refused to hand over the officials due to the EU’s policy against capital punishment in Ethiopia. There were also various lobbies by different groups calling the government to pardon the prisoners.

A decade ago, the government commuted the death sentences for 23 Dergue officials to life imprisonment, which finally helped them to be paroled since they spent over 20 years in jail.

Even though the Constitution prohibits pardons for inmates sentenced for genocide, another proclamation has granted the President of the country the ability to commute a death penalty to life imprisonment.