Addis Abeba, Nov. 06/2017 – The Federal High court 4th criminal bench has today said that it was reconsidering the relevance of the list of witnesses in the high profile case under the file name of Gurmesa Ayano et.al, a file name that also includes Bekele Gerba and other members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).
In its ruling on August 18th, the court decided to issue a subpoena to summon the high level government officials as defense witnesses for four of the defendants: Gurmesa Ayano Weyessa, Dejene Taffa Geleta, Addisu Bulala Abawalta and Bekele Gerba Dako. List of witnesses submitted by the four defendants included Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as well as Lemma Megersa and Dr. Abiy Ahmed, President and Vice President respectively of the Oromia regional state, Abadula Gemeda, former speaker of Ethiopia’s House of People’s representatives (HPR), and Chaltu Nani, Mayor of Lege Dadi town in the Oromia regional state special zone.
However, this morning a panel of three judges at the court have said the subpoena to summon the high level government officials as defense witnesses was not at all issued from the Federal Court despite the court’s decision on Aug 18th. During the morning session, the judges told the defense team that they would instead reconsider on whether or not to issue the subpoena during the afternoon session.But, the same panel of judges have now postponed the date to reconsider the court’s August ruling to issue the subpoena to November 16th.
In addition, two of the three judges who have ruled to summon defense witnesses on Aug. 18 were not present in today’s hearing; they were replaced by a new set of judges. These new judges have now expressed their reservations about the relevance of the court’s original decision to summon the said senior government officials as defense witnesses. The rest of the defendants in the same file name have began presenting their defense statements to the court today.
Today’s decision by the court marks the second legal setback in a week for Bekele Gerba, first secretary general of the OFC. Last week, a decision by the Federal Supreme Court to allow him a 30, 000 birr (about US$1, 094. 00) bail was quickly suspended by the Cassation division (bench) of the Supreme Court. The Cassation bench said it halted the supreme court’s decision to bail Bekele on the grounds that prosecutor’s appeal against the downgrading of Bekele’s original charges of terrorism to criminal charges were not addressed.
“I have lost trust in this country’s legal system,” Bekele told the judges today, “and I would not wish to return on November 16 to hear your decision again.” All the defendants are following their cases since they were first detained in Nov.-Dec. 2015. On July 13, the federal court 4th criminal bench acquitted five of the 22 defendants in the original file; ruled to reduce the terrorism charges against Bekele Gerba to criminal charges; and ordered the remaining 16 to defend the terrorism charges brought against them by the federal prosecutors. AS