The continued imprisonment of the leader of the opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) could cast a shadow over next month's general election.
One of the factors adding credence to the opposition's view that the May 2010 general election will not be fair and the voters will not be free to vote for their preferred candidate is the continued imprisonment for questionable reasons of Mrs Birtukan Mideksa, the leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ, opposition). International pressure to free this political prisoner has even gone up a notch recently, after her family announced that her health was beginning to wane and that the penitentiary authorities were refusing her the medical treatment she needed.
To cut the international campaign short, the governing EPRDF organised a half hour guided visit to Mrs Birtukan Mideksa in her cell for President Girma Woldegiorgis and one of his friends, the Pentecostal pastor from Atlanta, Daniel Gebreselassie, so that they could testify as to the prisoner's good state of health. Daniel Gebreselassie is close to the Ethiopian regime and participates in EphraimIsaac's group of "elders". It was in this capacity that he was discreetly given a mission by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to mediate with the opposition (ION 1250), but to no avail.
On the other hand, other less official visitors have not been allowed to see Birtukan Mideksa. The head of Kaliti prison where she is being held, the Tigrayan Abebe Ze Michael, refused to let her family and friends visit her, even though a court had ordered to allow them to do so. Only her mother and daughter were able to see her. Similarly, the leaders of the UDJ and the Medrek (opposition electoral coalition), including the former minister for defence, Seye Abraha, who tried last week, were escorted out of the prison by the penal administration. The UDJ is therefore strongly inclined to call for a boycott of the election if its leader is not freed before then.