Former party PR to defend charge
The 14th Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court has handed down sentences to three senior officials of Semayawi Party, who were allegedly caught making their way to Eritrea to join the armed struggle group Ginbot 7 (a group labeled as a terrorist organization by the House of People’s Representatives) on Friday.
The three party officials identified as Birhanu Tekleyared, Eyerusalem Tesfaw and Fikremariam Asmamaw together with their accomplice named Dessie Kahasai were each sentenced five, four-and-a-half, four and another four years of rigorous imprisonment. The defendants were also stripped-off all of their public rights for five years.
The three defendants were said to have been arrested by security forces a year ago with their accomplice, while they were traveling to Eritrea whereby they were due to join the Ginbot 7 group which was designated as a terrorist group by the parliament.
During trial, all of them confessed that they were members of Ginbot 7 and that they have tried to cross the border to join the armed group and insisted that they had done nothing wrong. The court read these statements to be denial of guilt and ruled that they had to defend charging levied against them.
It is to be remembered that the case has taken an interesting turn when the defendants called a group of top government officials and those who participated in the armed struggle to be defense witnesses. The defendants asked the court to summon top officials of the ruling party and opposition parties mainly Addisu Legesse, Tefera Walwa, Bereket Simon, Samora Yenus (Gen.), Merera Gudina (PhD). Beyene Petros (Prof.), Mesfin Woldemariam (Prof.), Gebru Asrat and other prominent figures. They further stated, these witnesses would refute the assertion that the act they have committed (joining an armed struggle) is a crime.
However, the court rejected their request by ruling that the matter of determining the act (joining an armed struggle), whether it is a crime or not, is a jurisdiction that is left to the court. The court further said the defendants can only defend the substance that is committing the act or not; not the fact that act is a crime or not.
In a related development, the 4th Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court has ruled that Yonathan Tesfaye, former head of Semayawi Party’s Public Relation Department, should defend the charges which have been brought against it accusing of him of violating the antiterrorism proclamation or participating in act of terror.
Yonathan was charged in connection with message he has been posting via his Facebook page repeatedly, which the prosecutors deemed to be in violation of the anti-terrorism proclamation.