Birtukan Midekssa is a former federal judge and leader of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Ethiopia.
Hailed as the Aung San Suu Kyi of her country, she was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after her party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, won an unprecedented number of seats in parliamentary elections. After eighteen months in prison, she was pardoned in 2007 following a series of high-level negotiations. Upon her release, she founded the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) and was elected its first chairperson. In 2008, she was rearrested for allegedly having violated the terms of her pardon and remained in prison for almost two more years. In 2010, she was shortlisted for the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Prior to entering politics, Ms. Midekssa served as a defense attorney and federal judge, rendering numerous court decisions in support of the rule of law and in defense of fundamental constitutional liberties. She drew the ire of the Ethiopian government when she presided as a judge in a high profile corruption case involving the former defense minister, Siye Abraha. Ms. Midekssa released Abraha for lack of evidence, but the government immediately rearrested him and sent him to jail for seven years. The government’s contempt for the rule of law helped motivate Birtukan Midekssa to become active in politics.
She was selected as a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow for 2011-2012 at the National Endowment for Democracy and as a Scholar at Risk Fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University for 2012 - 2013.