By Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil
Addis Abeba, April 23, 2021- The case of the five defendants on the file of Eskinder Nega, founder of the opposition party Balderas for Genuine Democracy was presented at the Federal Supreme Court, 2nd Appeals Bench this morning to pass a decision on prosecutor’s appeal to overturn a decision made by the Federal High Court, Lideta Branch, First Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Bench to hold prosecutor’s witnesses hearing in open sessions. Four of the defendants who are under police custody attended the hearing via Plasma TV.
The court hearing set up on April 6, 2021 to hear the decision on prosecutor’s appeal to overturn a decision made by the Federal High Court, Lideta Branch, First Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Bench to hold prosecutor’s witnesses hearing in an open session was not carried out because neither the defendants nor prosecutors appeared in court. The number of presiding judges assigned to the file was also incomplete.
At today’s hearing, the prosecutor requested for 16 of the witnesses to testify in a closed session and the remaining Five to testify behind curtains. Explaining the need to hide the identity of its witnesses, the prosecutor said that one of its witnesses received threats during the preliminary hearing. The prosecutor also told the court that the witness hearing can be followed by the media and observers via audio.
The defense team on its part argued that concealing the identity of the prosecutor’s witness would prevent them from knowing if there are individuals among the witnesses who are aggrieved at their clients. The lawyers also reminded the court that the prosecutor has not presented evidences for the said threat its witness received .Eskinder Nega told the court that in Ethiopia, this practice is applicable for cases of sexual assault that involves women and children to which the prosecutor responded by explaining the practice being common in foreign countries. The second defendant on the file, Sentayehu Chekol said, “We know that we were arrested at the order of the government. If the court decides to overturn the earlier decision then the claims that the justice system is reformed is all lies.”
The lawyers also suggested that the witnesses can be protected by changing their residents and arming them for self protection. The prosecutor explained that the witnesses are civil servants in Addis Abeba and that changing their residence is not appropriate. As for arming the witnesses for self protection, the prosecutor responded by reminding the country’s security situation making it improper to arm individuals.
After hearing both sides, the judges adjourned the hearing until May 4, 2021 to pass a decision.AS