Veteran opposition politician, Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), appeared before the Federal First Instance Court at Arada on Thursday and denied any terrorism ties and the allegations made in connection with his November 30 arrest after his return from Brussels, Belgium.
Merera told the court that he has spent his life opposed to violence and terrorism, and to teaching a better way. Investigators argued that Merera’s detention violated a provision of the country’s state of emergency measures.
That provision prohibits contact with terrorist organizations, which the investigators said Merera violated when he met with Berhanu Nega, chairman of Ginbot 7, (an organization that was labeled terrorist by the Ethiopian government) in Brussels during a trip to meet with European Union officials.
Merera delivered a speech to members of the European Union Parliament and testified on the Ethiopian human rights crisis, along with Berhanu and Olympic silver medalist athlete Feyisa Lilessa. A photo of them sitting together was widely circulated. He was arrested immediately upon his return to Addis Ababa, sparking an outcry from human rights organizations and activists.
“Despite his awareness of these provisions, Dr. Merera Gudina allegedly met and discussed with the leader of a group listed as terrorist in Brussels,” the Ethiopian embassy in Belgium said in a December 20 statement.
“Hence, the arrest of Dr Merera Gudina is not related with the meeting in the European Parliament but the alleged discussion with the leader of a terrorist group. If this meeting is confirmed by the investigation, this would have to be considered as a clear and deliberate violation of the state of emergency.”
Merera’s lawyer, Mohamed Nur Adulkarim, told The Reporter that his client has neither provided information to the press nor held discussions with Berhanu in the Belgian capital.
“I was informed by my client that the only reason he [Merera] traveled to Brussels was because he was invited by the EU Parliament to meet with EU officials,” Mohammed said.
During Thursday’s hearing, the court gave police another 28 days to continue the investigation, including Merera’s emails, electronic documents, banking data and other information. The next hearing is set for January 26, 2017.