Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
|Alma mater||Harvard University
Addis Ababa University
|Political party||UDJ (2008–2010)
Birtukan Mideksa (also spelled Birtukan Midekssa; Ge'ez: ብርቱካን ሚደቅሳ; born 1974) is an Ethiopian politician and former judge who is the founder and leader of the opposition party, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party from 2008 – 2010.
Birtukan Mideksa was born in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and attended the Yekatit 12 secondary school (also known as Etege Menen). After graduating from high school, she attended Addis Ababa University where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in Law. She practiced law in the third district of the federal judiciary. In 2014 Birtukan received Master's degree in Public Administration from Harvard University WEB Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
While she was working for the federal judiciary, Birtukan was appointed to be a judge at the 3rd district court of the federal first instant court. During that time, she presided over a high-profile case of the former defense minister and top ranking official of TPLF, Siye Abraha who was accused of corruption. She set the defendant free on bail, and was surprised minutes later when government authorities arrested Siye while he was walking out of the court accompanied by his family and friends.
Mideksa decided to join a political party to help bring about change, including recognition of the rule of law, and full respect for the implementation of the constitution. She joined the Rainbow Ethiopia: Movement for Democracy and Social Justice Party, and later, Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD). In the election of 2005, her party won over a third of the seats. Party members believed they would have won even more seats if not for voting and counting irregularities. After the election, the governing party started to round up opposition party leaders, Mideksa, who was convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and was sentenced to life in prison. She was pardoned in 2007 after lengthy negotiations and after she, along with other leaders of the opposition, spent 18 months in prison.
Mideksa later founded UDJ (Unity for Democracy and Justice) with the same principles that guided CUD. The need for having the new party name came from the fact that the ruling party's election commission awarded to a splinter group from CUD (aka Kinijit). Birtukan was elected to be a chairperson of the UDJ, which has the goal of bringing about change in Ethiopia by peaceful means.
On December 28, 2008, Mideksa was re-arrested. Her 2007 pardon was revoked and she was sentenced to life in prison. Human Rights Watch called the arrest politically motivated. The Ethiopian government claimed that her pardon had been conditional on "an apology for her crimes," and that it had ordered her re-arrest after hearing reports that she had publicly denied having apologized for her actions or asking for a pardon. Elizabeth Blunt of the BBC said that since her arrest, Mideksa, whom she described as “one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition which did so astonishingly well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections,” had become “even more of a heroine, attracting widespread sympathy as a single mother separated from her baby daughter.”
In December 2009, Amnesty International categorized Birtukan's imprisonment as "unjust and politically motivated" The organization also launched an international campaign demanding her release, challenging the Ethiopian government's claim that her incarceration was a legal matter. Many of her supporters refer to her as Ethiopia's Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese prisoner of conscience.
In December 2009 Amnesty International categorized Birtukan Mideksa's imprisonment as "unjust and politically motivated". It launched an international campaign demanding her release, challenging the Ethiopian government's claim that her incarceration was a legal matter. When asked about her release at a December 2009 news conference, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who rarely refers to her by name, replied, "There will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan," he said. "Ever. Full stop. That's a dead issue."
On October 6, 2010, Mideksa was released from prison. According to government spokesman Shimeles Kemal, Mideksa submitted a pardon plea in October 2010, while the justice ministry quoted a statement in which she expressed regret for denying her 2007 pardon. The United Kingdom's Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, welcomed her release, stating "This is an important step forward. We have always taken the view that her re-imprisonment was not in Ethiopia's interest and a solution should be found ... for her to be released." Amnesty International maintained that Mideksa had been a prisoner of conscience, stating that "she was imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression and association."
In 2011, Mideksa was awarded the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, giving her five months in Washington, D.C. to "study the principles of democracy."
As of 30 March 2013, Mideksa was a fellow at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
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