1 July 2015, 18:11 UTC
Ethiopian authorities must stop harassing two men and two women linked to the opposition Semayawi (Blue) Party, and immediately release them from detention, Amnesty International said as they were expected to face fresh charges in court today in the capital Addis Ababa.
“On five separate occasions over the course of the last 10 days, three different courts have ordered the police to release these four people,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes. “Their continued detention is blatantly unlawful and in clear violation of their rights to liberty and a fair trial.”
Woyneshet Molla, Ermias Tsegaye, Daniel Tesfaye and Betelehem Akalework were arrested in April this year and charged with inciting violence during a rally in the capital. They remained in custody awaiting trial. The four were convicted at the Federal First Instance Criminal Court at Kirkos on 22 June 2015 and sentenced to two months in prison. The judge however ordered their immediate release on the basis that they had already served their time, but the police ignored court orders and returned them to Kality and Kilinto prisons.
They were released the following morning, but police and security officials immediately re-arrested the four without a warrant and brought them to Kasanchiz 6th police station. On 25 June, they were presented on the same charges before the same judge that had ordered their release. He dismissed the case and again ordered their immediate release but the police did not comply and instead unsuccessfully sought to have another judge in the same court accept the case.
The following day the police brought the four before a new judge at Keraa Federal First Instance Court, on new charges of threatening witnesses to their original case. In a hearing on 30 June the court accepted the case, but ordered that the accused be released on bail pending the case’s resumption today. Again, the police disregarded court orders and the four remain in custody.
Separately, the Federal High Court Lideta Branch on 29 June accepted to hear the public prosecutor’s appeal against the original verdict, but refused their request to keep the four in custody. The appeal has been adjourned until 3 July.
“This charade must come to a halt. These four men and women have already served their jail term. This blatant disregard for judicial orders, and attempts to press fresh charges amounts to persecution, and takes harassment and intimidation to new heights,”
“By keeping Woyneshet Molla, Ermias Tsegaye, Daniel Tesfaye and Betelehem Akalework in detention, the Ethiopian authorities are undermining the credibility and authority of the court process and eroding the rule of law. They must stop harassing opposition members and ensure that the right to a fair trial is upheld.”
Scores of demonstrators including opposition party members and officials were arrested and charged with inciting violence at a rally in Addis Ababa on 22 April. The rally had been organized as part of three days of mourning for 26 Ethiopians killed by the armed group calling itself Islamic State in Libya. Amnesty International issued a public statement calling for restraint from the police while managing demonstrations and adherence to regional and international laws and standards.
Members of the Blue Party were amongst those opposition party members arrested. Some of the party officials – Blen Mesfin, Tewachew Damtew, Matias Mekuriya, Sintayehu Chekol, Tewodros Assfaw and Meron Alemayehu – who were arrested in Addis Ababa in the days following the 22 April rally remain behind bars. Nigist Wondefraw and Wondemagegen Assefaw, also members of the Blue Party, were arrested in Addis Ababa on 27 May and 3 June respectively and accused of inciting violence at the rally. Wondemagegen was released after four days in custody but Nigist is still being held.
Amnesty International has learnt that several other demonstrators including Blue Party members arrested during the election campaigning period are still detained and are undergoing trial. Natnael Yalemzewud was sentenced to three years in prison charged with inciting violence at the 22 April rally and for insulting the Prime Minister while he was delivering a speech to the public during the mourning ceremony at Mesqel Square. Four other individuals who are not party members were sentenced on 2 June 2015 to five months in jail under the same charge as well as the additional charge of singing anti-government songs during the rally.