News analysis

Ethiopian Court asks Attorney General to explain comment after Jawar and Bekele accuse him of presuming their guilt

Politicians and their lawyers complain that the government’s top legal officer undermined their right to a fair trial.

Judges on 1 October urged the Federal Attorney General to provide a written statement to the High Court explaining a recent comment to the media, after Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, two on trial opposition politicians, said his intervention assumed their guilt.

At a 24 September press conference, Gedion Timothewos Hessebon had said: “There were hundreds of people who have been directly affected by the violence these individuals have instigated and incited. We have to distinguish between peaceful lawful political mobilization and the kind of rhetoric, the kind of ultranationalist militant violent political activism that results in death and injury of citizens.”

On 21 September, federal prosecutors charged Oromo Federalist Congress leaders Jawar, Bekele, and 22 0thers with crimes including training a terrorist group in Egypt with the intention of toppling the government by force and attacking Amhara people and Orthodox Christian Church officials, as well as killing a police officer in the aftermath of the 29 June killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa.

Both Jawar and Bekele condemned Gedion’s comments, while their attorneys submitted a written complaint saying he violated fair trials rights under Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Ethiopia has ratified, as well as Article 20 of the Ethiopian Constitution regarding the right to be presumed innocent. “The statement endangers the defendants’ presumption of innocence and hinders the fairness and neutrality of decisions this court will render,” they wrote.

Jawar said: “The statement of the Attorney General is one that discards our presumption of innocence. Politician and high government officials, especially the Attorney General, are making it seem like our guilt is already decided. He called us ‘ultra-nationalist and militant’. This doesn’t only interfere with the trial, it’s also threatening for my life. I ask the court to summon the Attorney General and hold him responsible for his action.”

Bekele called for Gedion’s resignation: “The Attorney General gave a defamatory statement to foreign media in a situation we cannot defend ourselves. This leads us to question his neutrality. He has committed a crime against the justice system. He has to resign and the court should hold him responsible.”

Gedion did not answer when Ethiopia Insight tried to contact him on his mobile phone today.

Bekele also requested a clarification regarding the charges that were read at the hearing, but the court said that should be included in the written response. Defense lawyer Kedir Bullo told Ethiopia Insight “The whole point of reading the charges in the court room is to make sure defendants sufficiently understood what they are being charged for.”

Despite the defence not making a request, the court stated that bail cannot be granted because the charges include causing fatalities and could lead to prison sentences of 15 years or more. Kedir said the move breached procedure: “We planned to make the request after going through evidences brought against each defendant and the submission of written arguments. Since there is no point in arguing the decision right away, we will submit a written complaint to the court explaining our position.”

The defendants complained about detention conditions at Kilinto prison, where they have been since 25 September. Another OFC leader, Dejene Tafa, said he is concerned for his safety, as individuals in plain clothes watch him at night. “This government tried to assassinate me three times” he said, referring to not just his experience at Kilinto, but his exposure to COVID-19 after being arrested, and a previous incident. The court ordered for the defendants’ rights to be respected and for the prison administration to submit a written explanation at the next hearing regarding Dejene’s issue.

The defense was asked to submit their written response to the charges by 2 November, and the judges adjourned the trial until 27 November when the prosecution will respond to the defense’s arguments.

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Main photo: On right, Attorney General Gedion Timothewos Hessebon (then Deputy Attorney General); 5 July 2019; PMO.

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About the author

Leul Estifanos

Leul is a freelance court reporter and a law graduate of Addis Ababa University. He previously worked as a case reviewer at the Public Procurement and Property Disposal Service.

28 Comments

  • Food shortage in Ethiopia is reaching a level which is going to bring severe acute malnutrition to the majority of Ethiopians this terrible year 2013 E.C. with Coronavirus pandemic is expected to reach it’s curve by the end of 2013 E.C. within the next ten months in Ethiopia.

    Many Ethiopians are considering / preferring imprisonment to make it alive to the next year 2014 E.C.

    የወር ደሞዛችንን በሁለት ዓመት ተከፍሎ በሚያልቅ ክፍያ ገበታ ለሀገር ስጡ ተብለናል: አልተስማማንም – የንግድ ባንክ ሰራተኞች ቅሬታ

  • Ittu Aba Farda
    “October 4, 2020 at 11:15 pm
    This shows the court is showing due diligence to maintain independence. You know who is watching over the courts. That over qualified firebrand H.E. Meaza bint Ashenafe is who!!! It shows law and order have finally arrived at law and order itself in the land of more than 120 million blessed people. One word out of you chauvinist pig! Just one word you misogynist! Keep your mouth shut and let people think you have turned into a mute jackass!!! All glory to our women!!!!!”

    It is hoped and anticipated with fingers crossed that the much required reform of the judicial system in Ethiopia will finally start. Attorney Meaza Ashenafi has been appointed as President of the Supreme Court. All that is great. However, just because talented females are assigned to a post does not mean reform is guaranteed. A great example to this would be the case of Judge Birtukan Mideksa. The imprisonment and subjugation of this exceptionally talented judge during the Melese regime. His shameful condescending interview with foreign journalists regarding her suffering in prison, all point to a systemic, institutional lack of check and balance of the judiciary system in Ethiopia. In fact, it can be argued that Ethiopia has been locked in a judiciary system subservient to the executive branch forever. Ethiopia went from a system of absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to military dictatorship then ethnic federalist but one man, one ethnic group i.e. Meles control of the judiciary and now to the era PM Abiy. It can be argued the 1940s through early 1970s demonstrated some great strides in the judiciary branch with the establishment of the 1957? penal code (after the revised Ethiopian constitution of 1955) which improved the 1930 penal code of Ethiopia. However, nearly 90 years history of a relatively modern judicial system in Ethiopia has not guaranteed the basic principle of separation of powers, especially between the executive and the judiciary in Ethiopia (namely, the Emperor during the imperial regime, the chairman, and later the president during the derg regime and the office of the Prime minister during the EPRDF Meles regime and the judiciary in all three regimes. Whether the era of PM Abiy changes that trend remains to be seen.

    • Tommy,

      It seems that you have a better handle on what is going on in Ethiopia. I wish you use such immense wisdom you are generously endowed with for your own country. You see, our old country is a big country with more than 120 million people in an area of more than 425,000 square miles and a mountain of problems. Yours is way much smaller country and with an easily manageable population. I have the utmost confidence in your brain prowess to make your country great and then you can teach us how to do chores around our house. You are so genius. Buon lavoro! Bravo! Bravo!!! Bravissimo!!!!

  • “Ephrem Goshu
    October 4, 2020 at 11:49 am
    How do you know they are responsible for deaths? Well maybe you shouldn’t talk about the Oromo cause if you dont know it. Well, your basic facts have no evidence nor do they seem true. That is why the gvmnt is in a tight spot.”

    Again, the “Oromo cause” whatever that is cannot, should not and will not be attained over the deaths of other Ethiopians. Jawar and Bekele maybe your gods and idols but to other Ethiopians they are just mortals and humans like everybody else. If they are suspected of a crime, they can be charged, prosecuted and sentenced per the laws of the nation. Just like you questioned how others suspect thos two individuals of being responsible, other people are questioning you on how you know that they are not responsible. A process called the legal process needs to be carried out to determine that. Now you can argue if they are receiving due process they deserve etc. You will find support from well meaning people all over the world in that regard.

  • This shows the court is showing due diligence to maintain independence. You know who is watching over the courts. That over qualified firebrand H.E. Meaza bint Ashenafe is who!!! It shows law and order have finally arrived at law and order itself in the land of more than 120 million blessed people. One word out of you chauvinist pig! Just one word you misogynist! Keep your mouth shut and let people think you have turned into a mute jackass!!! All glory to our women!!!!!

  • “They are not criminals, they are political prisoners, politicians fighting for Oromo cause. The drama you see here is Ethiopian government putting Oromo nation on trial.”

    If they are responsible for the death and massacre of many, they are no longer politicians but dangerous criminals. The “Oromo cause” whatever that means cannot, should not and will not be attained on the dead bodies of innocent Ethiopians. The “Oromo nation” is not “on trial”. Two individuals charged with the deaths and massacre of many innocent victims of hatred and ethnic cleansing are on trial. Let’s get these basic facts straight.

    • How do you know they are responsible for deaths? Well maybe you shouldn’t talk about the Oromo cause if you dont know it. Well, your basic facts have no evidence nor do they seem true. That is why the gvmnt is in a tight spot.

  • The Ambassador of USA to Ethiopia, Ambassador Mike Raynor recently toured the new farm machineries factory assembly facility which produces John Deere farm tractors in Shashamane , Oromia. ….

    This facility is a joint venture owned between John Deere’s Ethiopia partner and all the residents of the city of Shashemene to assemble and deliver John Deere tractors to Ethiopian farmers allover Ethiopia. ..

    The facility expects to produce over 800 tractors this year. Chombe Seyoum, John Deere’s partner in Ethiopia aims to build the capacity of the facility and ultimately export to the East African market. This project was initiated at the request of Deere & Company in 2018, as a result of Deere’s drive to more efficiently support the need for small agriculture production equipment in the country. Deere & Company is one of the best known American manufacturers of mechanized farming equipment. The company was founded in 1837, based in Illinois, and supplies farming, and forestry equipment globally.
    ….

    gedebengineering.com › category
    news Archives – Gedeb Engineering – Gedeb Engineering

    https://gedebengineering.com/?s=Ambassador

    • This SHASHAMANE’S RESIDENTS owned tractor factory’s legal name says it all. “KEGNA TRACTOR FACTORY” was inaugurated in 2018 by the then President of Oromia , Lemma Megersa. The day this factory got inaugurated was a game changer for all of Shashamane’s residents by overnight making them legal owners of this tractor factory.

  • Woyane is hunting down farm tractors in Ethiopia. Woyane is determined to create an anarchy in Addis Ababa by creating shortage of food, inorder to achieve shortage of food in Addis Ababa Woyane is buying all the farm tractors they can find and hiding the farm tractors in warehouses.

    TPLF is buying brand new farm tractors and putting them out of work by storiing them in warehouses just to create price hikes in farm tractors prices within Ethiopia hoping
    within the next two years the prices of farm tractors will be unaffordable ,in turn resulting in price hikes of food commodities within Addis Ababa.

    Many tractor importers especially the famous brand name ‘John Deere’ tractors are in high demands now in Ethiopia with the sole importer of John Deere farm tractors receiving orders from TPLF and complying not to sell brand new farm tractors to nooneelse except to TPLF .

  • It is simple to make innocent people guilty if you have weapon at hand.
    What going in Ethiopia is that.
    Governing body killed echoic artist by it self, and dettained those who were participating on murning.
    Again called them terrorist!

  • This is African dictators way of subjugating their opponents!
    Who he killed Hachalu, pre planned to terroris these legends, now call Jawar and Bakale as terroorist.

  • “ Gudina
    October 3, 2020 at 8:21 pm
    This picture speaks volumes. The merger if church and state; the two pillars used to subjugate the Oromo and other southern peoples.”

    When was the picture taken? Is the attorney general the prosecuting attorney of the case on behalf of the state, that is Ethiopia, against the two defendants Bekele and Jawar? We do not need to politicize everything. At the same time, pictures of Eskinder Nega and co-defendants in handcuffs and orange prison suits (a desperate display to show the guilt of Eskinder to the west audience) was shown while Bekele and Jawar in their suits and ties were shown walking freely to the court, accompanied by guards.

    The question before the court is simple: have the two defendants organized, financed called into action, recruited, disseminated information etc. advocating for the overthrow of the state, for the massacre of non Oromo Ethiopians, been involved with any other forces, foreign or domestic, that worked towards these outcomes????? The state needs to show beyond a reasonable doubt that it has such and such proof. The defendants then present their defense and argue otherwise. Does Ethiopia have the training and expertise to carry this out? Possibly yes. Is this likely to occur based on past experience and history? Probably not.

  • Who is the prosecuting attorney on behalf of the state i.e. Ethiopia against the two defendants Bekele and Jawar? The attorney general made a generalized statement to questions asked by the media. Neither Bekele nor Jawar has any authority or say as to whom the state appoints as attorney general. They are charged with a serious crime of instigating violence, murder and displacement of many innocent Ethiopians. They should argue and present their defense in the court.

    It is true that receiving impartial justice has been elusive in Ethiopia for decades. The state should present its case and prove to the court the crimes allegedly perpetrated by the defendants. The defense should show its counter argument and present its defense. Digital records, comments of the defendants, their public postings, calls for assembly and action for violence, if documented and presented to the court in a manner that demonstrates burden of proof by the state beyond a reasonable doubt will be considered meeting the standard of some due process. Unfortunately, either due to lack of legal training and knowledge, or historical political interference of the state in all matters inimical to its cause or aspirations, the Abiy regime too, has not managed to demonstrate the reform and desperately needed changes of the Ethiopian legal system. From the attempt on Abiy’s own life, to the assassination or unexplained death of Engineer Simegnew Bekele, the very muddy incident in Bahia Dar, the death of Hachalu, the several displacements and massacre of Ethiopians in various areas of the country, neither the government nor any media, has shown any concrete evidence of what exactly happened to the general public in terms that can be considered unequivocal. The politicization of the judiciary that was exasperated during the derg regime by Mengistu and cronies, and later ethnocized, factionalized and further corrupted to the point of utter injustice leaves the country and the public in dire straits.

  • This picture speaks volumes. The merger if church and state; the two pillars used to subjugate the Oromo and other southern peoples.

  • There is ample evidence Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba are unambiguously terrorists. But, heavy pressure is coming from many corners to be lenient or release them from prison. Their constant demands show they are receiving preferential treatment. They are in luxury jail, yet their disrespect, manipulations, and abuse of the court continue unchallenged. They successfully used the court as a campaign and communication platform to call for more upheaval. In this latest episode, their complaint is the Attorney General’s comment is prejudgment. Well, at this court, there is no jury of your peers to put one across. The judges and the court should assume they are innocent until they are proven guilty. The prosecuting attorney charges them with the heinous crime of orchestrating mass-murder, destroying property, and eventually overthrew the government by violent means. He has to accept they are guilty as charged and ultimately establish his case.

    • They are not criminals, they are political prisoners, politicians fighting for Oromo cause. The drama you see here is Ethiopian government putting Oromo nation on trial. No need to go back to the past era to see how Oromos’ interests and their quest for equality is being responded to, it’s happening again right now in front of our very eyes. This whole drama was pre-planned starting from Hachalu’s assassination to arresting opposition parties, silencing Oromo voices and so on and on and on. One last point- the fact that they are able to speak up and defend themselves which is a basic human right by the way upsets you, says a lot about you and what you know about democracy.

    • Prosecutor file charges and after listening to witnesses personal or material the judge decides guilt. Prosecutor can accept and establish cases but not make a verdict of the charge in public as Timtimo Gideon did. The foreign journalists were amazed on the prosecutor being a judge as the same time.

      • We should understand one fundamental Issue here. No one rendered a verdict here. It’s standard practice for the prosecutors to lay out the charges in public all over the world. That’s what Mr. Gedion Timothewos Hessebon just did. At the press conference, he reads the charges against the terrorists. The media and the public are not an arbitrator. The judges have the ultimate authority in a matter.

  • Bekele Gerba had huge potential but he squandered his potential by aligning with the Dembi Dolllo University student’s abducters . Three hundred plus days had passed since the Dembi Dollo students had been abducted giving Bekele’s team a leverage to negotiate a deal with the prosecutor since without a deal it seems the whereabouts of the students is not known since three hundred days passed with no clue known by the students families or the governmenr’s security apparatus search hostage negotiators professionals to where the students are . Jawar is firing six of his lawyers letting only six of his lawyers represent him because twelve lawyers at the same time representing him shown that he is giving directions to his lawyers to do things not related to his imprisonment.

  • Sadly, it is illegal to point out that Oromo political prisoners are being deliberately targeted, unlike other prisoners.

  • Hahaha! So, it is an Orthodox Church & Deacon categorizing Jawar Mohammed “the Islam” as a “terrorist” ahead of formal accusation–reminding us what happened to Lij Iyasu. It makes a good Ph.D. Thesis

    • If there is fool who uses the cover of ethnic activism to spread religious hate against the Orthodox, then there is another fool who stands up to defend the Orthodox. Two can play the game.

      • Let’s not dally with words. The carnage shows the Orthodox were the target. They are disproportionately the victim of that savage ravage. Now, whether you call them ethnic activist or bloodthirsty criminals, the fact remains Jawar and Bekele are primarily responsible for the slaughters.

  • Main photo: On right, Attorney General Gedion Timothewos Hessebon (then Deputy Attorney General); 5 July 2019; PMO.

    What about the left side photo ?

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