By Mahlet Fasil @mahletfasil
Addis Abeba, February 26/2021 – Federal First Instance Court, Arada Division, pre-trial appointment hearing bench in its session on today looked in to the cases of the 20 TPLF officials who are under the federal polices custody, who appeared at the court for the fourth time.
In today’s hearing the police have once again appealed for additional days for investigation the senior TPLF officials including Sebhat Nega and Abay Woldu. Despite three similar grants in the last few weeks, the police said that they couldn’t complete their investigation within the 14 days previously allotted by the court.
The police further said that they have received the testimony of 85 witnesses and organized overall 200 testimonials and that they have compiled two bags of paperwork from Mekelle, the capital of Tigray regional state, to which 500 pages of transcribed documents are attached as evidence. There are documents that are yet to be brought from Mekelle, the police said and asked for additional days to receive additional testimonies. The police also said that they are keeping track of the weapons the detains individuals were using.
The suspects’ lawyers, for their part, argued that the police are using the same excuses they used during the last three hearings to ask for additional days and asked the court about their appeal to provide medical treatment of the first defendant Sebhat Nega, 87, at the previous session.
The court heard the arguments of both sides and ruled that Sebhat can receive medical treatment by his personal doctors inside the prison. The court said that Doctors have the right to appeal to a court if equipment is needed and their clients need to be taken to the hospital. The 13 days requested by the police were granted and the court was adjourned until March 11, 2021.
The TPLF officials appeared at the court for the fourth time after the last hearing was adjourned to hear the results of police investigations on the accused including TPLF veteran and founder Sibhat Nega, former Tigray state president Abay Woldu, former speaker of the House of Federation Keria Ibrahim, former finance minister Abraham Tekeste (Dr.), former MP and state Minister for Transport, Mulu Gebre-Egziabher, as well as senior former TPLF officials Kidusan Nega, and Ambassador Abadi Zemo.
During the hearing on Friday February 19, the federal Police told the judges that they have already collected 113 witness statements and documented material evidences from Mekelle through the investigation team based in the region’s capital. The Police also indicated that it has attached infrastructural damage and loss assessment documents allegedly caused by TPLF’s attacks on public infrastructure along with the files, which are divided into three files.
However, in relation to all the three files, the police have indicated that there were remaining works on gathering additional witness statements and supplementary evidence materials with the remaining findings collected by the investigation team in Mekelle. The police also claimed that letters sent to different government institutions were not returned with answers yet and requested 14 more days to remand and further investigate the accused.
Lawyers representing the accused on the other hand argued that the indictments on the police appeals do not separately and clearly show individual participation of the accused for the alleged crimes but rather show the security circumstances encountered in the Tigray region. The lawyers also raised their concerns over the extended detention of the accused without charges in cases that require a limit to its scope. Additionally, the lawyers pointed that the police have not clearly indicated which of the said 113 witnesses are testifying against which accused.
Ailing Sibehat Nega
Sibhat Nega, aged 87, and who appeared visibly ill and unable to stand in the court room during the last hearing, has requested the court through his defense lawyers to allow him a private medical treatment at Addis Hiwot Hospital in Addis Abeba, where he had his medical history.
The federal police however opposed to the request on grounds that the accused was prone to security risks and that it is not convenient for the police to ensure security over the requested private medical center. The court then adjourned until the next hearing to give its verdict on whether or not to the request.
The 5th accused in the same file, Hiriyti Mihirteab has also appealed about her family’s suffering as her house was sealed, making it inaccessible to her family. The court rejected the appeal and said it should be raised in another hearing.
Tewodros Hagos, the 7th accused, also appealed that while his house was searched, the police confiscated Birr 10,600 that his wife was paid from a local social security association. He also appealed that his pension bank book and other bank books of his children and his house ownership certificate as well as USD 2000 that was left from his medical expense were all confiscated, leaving his family in dire need. The Police replied that the money was confiscated as exhibit as part of finance used to commit alleged crimes, which the police didn’t specify. The judges have therefore ordered police to identify the connection of the money with the alleged crime, and return the money if there is no link established.
The court also heard cases in the second file, which included Abay Woldu and the third file which included Keiria Ibrahim and Mulu Gebregziabher. The police indicated that the investigation procedure are similarly being carried on as the first file. However the police expressed difficulty to acquire statements from the accused due to “their reluctance to give their words” following advice from their lawyers not to give statement in the absence of their defense team. The lawyers opposed the Police’s complaints stating that their clients have the right to remain silent in their absence.
The defense team also asked the court to merge the three-case files into one as the proceedings of the cases are going in similar manners. The court however ruled that the files involve many individuals and thereby should continue as it is in three separate files. The court then, considering the complexity of the case and the steps police has gone so far, determined that the police should be given the 14 days it requested and adjourned the next hearing until February 26, 2021.
It is to be remembered that during their second appearance at the same court on January 29, 2021 the court looked into four files of cases, one of which was was the case journalist Dawit Kebede who has since been released from police custody on 50, 000 birr bail. The other three files were arranged into files that include Sibhat Nega and nine other individuals namely Ambasaddor Abadi Zemu, Dr Solomon Kidane, Kidusan Nega, Hiriyti Mihirteab, Tewodros Hagos, Teklewoyni Asefa, Woldegiorgis Desta and Gebremedhin Tewolde.
The second file consists Abay Woldu, Dr Abrham Tkeste, Dr Araey Berhe, Mulat Yirga, Firehiwot Hagos, Equbai Berhe, Getachew Teferi, Hamdumaliya Tessema, and Nigatu Alemu. The third file consisted Keria Ibrham and Mulu Gebreegziabher. Abay Woldu and Dr. Solomon, who were not present due to illness during the first hearing have appeared in court.
During the second hearing on January 29 the federal police said that its team has collected different evidence against Sibhat Nega, Abadi Zemu and Dr Solomon Kidane accusing them of in alleged involvement in inciting ethnic and religious motivated violence, as well as plot to carry out an alleged attack on the Northern Command; the police say documents and video evidence were recovered. On Dr Solomon Kidane, police said he was also responsible for fortress digging. Police indicated that statements are also collected from 15 witnesses, and telephone communication evidences are sent to INSA for technical inspection while other team is sent to Tigray assess the damage caused particularly on airports and fuel reserves.
The defending lawyers however objected to the allegations stating them as something that often heard from state medias. It doesn’t show their individual participation problems that existed years earlier are being connected to them yet polices findings should have been a lot because they have been doing investigations since November.
Lawyers asked for bail grant but the prosecutor opposed explaining that they were in disguise while they captured showing a potential risk of hiding if released. Lawyers also objected the way police referring them as criminals already while they are still suspecting and investigations are still on progress. The court accordingly instructed police to correct this and refer them as suspects.
Police also presented the second case file that include the former President of Tigray region, Abay Woldu and Dr Abrham Tekeste indicating that Dr. Abrham was suspected of looting gold and property giving order to its removal from the National Bank and taken money loading a truck that was later distributed to his comrades in hidings out there in addition to the collective allegation of inciting violence and attack on the Northern Command. Police indicated that it has collected statements from ten witnessed for this file.
Police also indicated that they are working on vast investigation scope including sending a team to Mekelle and subsequently asked additional 14 days for further investigation. Lawyers appealed to the court that the allegations presented are duplicates of one to the other and hence should separately indicated their individual involvement to the allegations.
Police in its reference to Abay Woldu, said that he was found disguised as a priest holding an ID identifying him him differently when he was captured. The lawyers to this point indicated that their clients had to move away from Mekelle to protect the city from harm from heavy artillery and air strikes that hit the city as well as the Eritrean forces, and therefore their movements shouldn’t be considered as a crime.
The police objected the defenses’ arguments that the Eritrean forces should not be cited at the moment while “their presence has not been confirmed.” The judges reminded the police that the rights of the accused should be upheld as innocent until proven guilty but due to the complexity of the accusations granted the police the requested additional 14 days and adjourned the next hearing for Friday February 12.
With regard to Keria Ibrahim and Mulu Gebregziabher’s file the police mentioned that it has secured ten witness statements on their alleged involvement in crimes by consulting and giving orders of implementations. Lawyers however argued that Keiria Ibrahim, listed first in the file, has been detained for 60 days while the second Mulu has been detained for 51 days already. They had spent more than a month without appearing in a court of law against their constitutionally guaranteed right to appear in a court of law within 48 hours of their detention. Keiria Ibrahim said she was held in private facility for 40 days in a location she doesn’t know. Similarly, Mulut told the court that she too was kept in a facility next door, and yet the two didn’t know until they met in a car en route their first court appearance. The police have failed to clarify the reason except referring to their statements in the first hearing that they were transferred into their custody only as of January 15, 2021.
Keiria also told the court that she has no knowledge of the whereabouts of her detention location, where she was detained isolated for about forty days. Mulu also explained that she had no knowledge that Keiria was held next door until they met at the vehicle while heading to court for their first appearance.
The court then stated that the rights of the accused to be considered innocent until proven guilty is maintained and further putting the complexity of the case in to account granted the police the requested additional 14 days and adjourned the next hearing to February 12, 2021.
It is recalled that the twenty TPLF leaders including Sibhat Nega and Keria Ibrahim along with other fellows appeared in court on January 15, 2021 for the first time after they were brought to Addis Abeba from the Tigray by the Defense force.
The individuals were since then arraigned in the Arada Division of the Federal First Instance Court. among them are former TPLF leader Sibhat Nega, Abay Woldu, Keria Ibrahim, Abraham Tekeste (Dr.), Kidusan Nega, and Abadi Zemo.
The individuals were accused for organizing an illegal group to overthrow the constitutional order, attacking the Northern Command, inciting youths to fight, looting fuel depots, and killing several members of the Defense Forces.
The Federal Police Criminal Investigation Team told the court that they had also been involved in unconstitutional activities related to creating connections with different foreign countries, fundraising for war, shooting rocket-propelled grenades at airports in Gonder and Bahir Dar, and other crimes. The senior TPLF leaders on the other hand told the federal court that they have not committed the allegations presented by the police.
Federal Attorney General and the Federal Police have issued arrest warrants for several TPLF military and political leaders in connection with the crisis in Tigray State for reasons of suspects leading the TPLF, attacking the Northern Command in the Tigray region, committing treason, and abducting members of the Defense Forces and the police.
Among the TPLF’s top leaders in court was 86-year-old Sibhat Nega, a former TPLF leader and senior member of the TPLF was also known for leading EFFORT and later director of the Ethiopian Institute for Strategic Studies. Keria Ibrahim, a former speaker of the House of Federation, left Tigray a few months ago due to the conflict between the federal government and the TPLF. Mulu Gebre-Egziabher was a member of the House of Peoples’ Representatives and a State Minister for Transport.
Abay Woldu, a former TPLF fighter who later held various positions in the TPLF, served as the head of the Tigray Regional State. Dr. Abraham Tekeste was the State Minister of Finance and Economic Development until the change in the country in 2010. He has been in Tigray for the past two years, where he was the Deputy Chief of Staff and Head of the Finance and Economic Development Bureau. Kidusan Nega, younger sister of Sibhat Nega, was one of the former TPLF fighter and served as a member of the party’s central and executive committee, mayor of Mekelle, and speaker of the Tigray Regional Council for many years. AS