Addis Standard

News: Imprisoned opposition leader Bekele Gerba risks losing left eye vision, his distraught daughter says

Mahlet Fasil

Addis Abeba, February 01/2018 – Bontu Bekele, the daughter of imprisoned opposition leader Bekele Gerba, first secretary general of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), told Addis Standard that her father risks “losing his left eye vision due to lack of access to proper medical treatment.”

A few days ago a picture of Bekele Gerba showing him standing in front of a doctor’s office for retina treatment inside Menelik Hospital here in the capital was circulating on Social media. According to Bontu, the doctors at the Minilik Hospital told Bekele and his family that the treatment was beyond “their capacity to provide” and referred him to a private hospital where they said specialized doctors were available. Bekele was receiving initial treatments at the Qilinto prison clinic in Kality, the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba where he is currently held awaiting sentencing.

The Qilinto clinic referred Bekele to Minilik hospital, which in tern referred him to a private hospital called Biruh Vision. “The doctors told us Bekele needs specialized doctors to treat his retinal blood vessels which are severely damaged due to a high blood pressure he has been experiencing since his detention, which has not been treated,” Bontu said.

However, prison authorities told Bekele and the family that they “will not allow Bekele to be treated anywhere other than a government hospital”, a distraught Bontu said. “We don’t know what is going to happen, my father’s left eye vision is completely blurred and he is in pain.” As of late, Bekele’s blood pressure has been constantly measuring at 190/110. Medical indicators state the minimum threshold for high blood pressure at 140/90, while anything over 180/110 is considered “hypertensive crisis or an emergency.” 

Bekele Gerba started to experience having high blood pressure during his eight years sentence in 2011. He was released in the first week of April 2015 after serving his time which was paroled for good conduct. In his first exclusive interview with Addis Standard, Bekele spoke about the times he began to have high blood pressure.  “During the first two three days soon after I was taken to Ma’ekelawi [prison] I started having severe headache and the nurses told me that my blood pressure was high. I had never had that experience before,” he said.

Background

Bekele Gerba is one of 22 defendants who have been charged with terrorism in May 2016, seven months after they were detained in Nov – Dec. 2015. Since then the court has acquitted five of the 22 defendants, reduced the terrorism charge against Bekele Gerba to criminal charges, and ordered the remaining 16 to defend the terrorism charges brought by the federal prosecutors.

His co-defendants: the 5th and 6th defendants: Abdeta Negasa & Gelana Negera; as well as the 15th to 21st defendants: Yesuf Alemayehu, Hika Teklu, Gemechu Shanqo (aka Dekema), Megersa Asfaw, Lemi Edeto, Abdi Tamirat, and Abdisa Kumesa were released following Hailemariam Desalegn’s promise to   release “some prisoners” . Many have expected  Bekele Gerba among those to be released, however so far no sign of him being released has surfaced; instead he and the remaining defendants including Gurmesa Ayano, another high profile member of the OFC, are awaiting the court’s verdict on February 05.

During their last court appearance the judges at the federal high court 4th criminal bench have sentenced four defendants: Gurmesa Ayano, Dejene Taffa, Addisu Bulala and Bekele Gerba, to six months in prison for “contempt of court” after all of them have fiercely protested the court’s decision to dismiss an earlier court summon issued to bring high level government officials as defense witnesses. AS