The Ethiopian government on Wednesday released former judge and political opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa [Reuters profile] from an Addis Ababa prison where she had been serving a life sentence. The Ethiopian Justice Ministry said that Mideksa, leader of Unity for Democracy and Justice [party website], asked the government for a pardon last month, a claim that she later confirmed in an interview [Bloomberg report]. Mideksa's release comes one day after the Ethiopian House of Representatives [official website] re-elected incumbent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [BBC profile] for another five-year term in office [press release]. Critics argue that the announcement is meant to address international criticism [Al Jazeera report] of the country's spring elections, which prompted opposition parties to file suit claiming illegal use of intimidation and voter fraud [JURIST report]. Mideksa was originally jailed for protesting against the government.
Both the US and EU criticized the results following Zenawi's election in May. The US State Department (DOS) [official website] noted that Ethiopian election laws heavily favor the party in power [press briefing] and that Ethiopia must take direct, concrete steps to further democracy if its relationship with the US is to progress. An EU spokesman stated that the election process failed to meet international standards [BBC report] and that the ruling party clearly had an advantage in the election process. The 2005 Ethiopian elections were also marred by allegations of fraud, which led to violent demonstrations [JURIST reports]. The National Electoral Board (NEB) [official website] ordered new elections [JURIST report] in 20 districts after an investigation into the fraud allegations found evidence of abuse at more than 100 polling stations. Several Ethiopian opposition members were convicted and sentenced for their roles in the protests, although many asked for and eventually received pardons [JURIST reports].