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Mahlet Fasil

Addis Abeba – May 25, 2017 – The Federal High court fourth criminal bench has today sentenced Yonatan Tesfaye, social media activist and former public relations head of the opposition Blue Party to six years and three months in jail.

In its ruling this morning, the court has partially accepted Yonatan’s three different appeals for minimum sentence. His appeal mentioned that Yonatan was the sole caregiver of his aging and ailing mother; that he had no previous criminal records and that he was involved in several charity programs to benefit disadvantaged citizens.

Tomorrow will mark one year and six months since Yonatan was first arrested, and it will be considered as time served. Sources say his lawyer Shibiru Belete is seeking to appeal for the charges of terrorism to be downgraded to criminal charges. Addis Standard could not reach the lawyer as of yet.

Background

Yonatan was first arrested in December 2015, barely a month after the first wave of a year-long #Oromoprotests erupted.  He was held incommunicado during the pre-trial weeks and was subsequently charged in May 2016 under Ethiopia’s infamous anti-terrorism proclamation (ATP).

Since he was arrested, Yonatan has been defending the charges of ‘encouraging terrorism’, stipulated under article six of the country’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). Charges were largely drawn from his Facebook activism during last years’ nationwide anti-government protests. According to article six of the ATP, “Whosoever publishes or causes the publication of a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducements to them to the commission or preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism…” is an offense of terrorism punishable from ten to 20 years rigorous prison term in a federal prison.

He had presented several defense witnesses, including prominent opposition party leaders from the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Bekele Gerba and Dr. Merera Gudina, who are in jail at the time of their testimony fighting charges of terrorism and multiple criminal charges respectively, and journalist Eskendir Nega, who is serving 18 years in prison for terrorism-related charges.

In addition, Yonatan’s close friend Ephrem Tayachew, his father Tesfaye Regassa, and his sister Gedamnesh Tesfaye as well as academicians from the Addis Abeba University (AAU), including the outspoken philosopher Dr. Dagnachew Assefa and Dr. Yaqob Hailemariam have all appeared in court to testify in defense of Yonatan’s innocence. AS

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