By Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil
Addis Abeba, September 01/2020 – Federal prosecutors have today formally charged Dejene Tafa, vice chairman of the opposition party Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and one other co-defendant with crimes against the constitutional order, endangering public safety and inciting violence, among others.
Since the major crackdown by the government launched against several opposition party leaders and members nearly two months ago following the assassination of Oromo artist Hachalu Hundesa, Dejene has become the first senior opposition figure to be indicted with formal criminal charges. If convicted, the three articles Dejene is charged with carry life in prison up to death sentence.
Dejene Fikadu, one of the three lawyers representing Dejene and Mesteward Temam, the second co-defendant in Dejene’s case file, told Addis Standard that the two were charged with Articles 32, 35 and 238/2 of the Criminal Code.
Of the three Criminal Code articles, Article 238/2 under “Outrages against the Constitution or the Constitutional Order” reads “Where the crime has entailed serious crises against public security or life, the punishment shall be life imprisonment or death.”
Prosecutors accused Dejene and Mesteward of “pushing for the establishment of a transitional government using coercive measures including dismantling the constitution once the legislative term limit came to an end in June this year.” They also accused them of using the assassination of Hachalu as a cover “to advocate for the Oromo people to rise up and ensure their ownership of the country; dismantle statues of Menelik II and others in the country; and advocating for the Qeerroo (a popular Afaan Oromo term for unmarried men) to destroy properties belonging natives of other nations and getting rid of the political order in the 4 kilo palace.”
In addition, the charge separately accuses Dejene of “taking orders via phone” from Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of OFC who is also in detention on a pre-trial hearing, to organize the Oromo youth to prevent the body of Hachalu from traveling to his native city Ambo and forcibly returning to Addis Abeba after the it reached in Burayu town in Oromia Special Zone Surrounding Finffine. Prosecutors also accused Dejene of coordinating a violence by calling his allies in Bale Zone Dembel Wereda in the night Hachalu was assassinated. His actions have resulted in the death of two people in Bale zone and six people in Addis Abeba, prosecutors alleged.
On August 24, Dejene was granted a 10, 000 birr bail by judges at the Federal First Instance Court Arada Branch however, the police have appealed against the decision at the Federal high Court and were given until August 26 to present their cases against Dejene and three others with him. However, the police failed to file the charges on August 26 and the judges granted them an ultimatum of five more days to file the charges and cautioned the police that failing to do so on the given time frame will lead judges to uphold the decision by the Federal First Instance Court Arada Branch to release Dejene on bail. The hearing was adjourned until Monday August 31.
At the hearing on August 31, the police once again failed to file the charges but said their investigations were completed and the files were transferred to the Federal Attorney General’s office for charges to be filed on September 01. Subsequently, the judges withheld Dejene’s release, leading to today’s criminal indictment by the federal prosecutors from the AG’s office.
The judges have overruled defense team’s request to release both Dejene and Masteward on bail during today’s hearing, and adjourned the next hearing until September 03 to get the response against the charges from the defense team.
Dejene was one of the four defendants of OFC leadership, the other three being Gurmesa Ayano, Addisu Bulala and Bekele Gerba, who was sentenced to prison on terrorism charges and was released in in February 2016, two months before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed office. AS
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