Addis Abeba, February 05/2018 – The federal high court fourth criminal bench has today sentenced four defendants in the file name of Gurmesa Ayano et.al to six more months in jail in “contempt of court”. This is the second time the court has handed a six month sentencing against the four defendants: Gurmesa Ayano, Gurmesa Ayano, Dejene Taffa, Addisu Bulala and Bekele Gerba (seen in the above picture). All the four will be serving 12 months in total for contempt of court.
Outside the court room, veteran opposition leader Bulcha Demeksa (retired) and Tiruneh Gemta of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), the party the defendants are from, are seen discussing the court’s decision.
The judges said they were sentencing the defendants for interrupting the court hearing for 30 minutes. This morning, the court was about to pass innocent or guilty verdict but all the defendants have refused to stand up and confirm their presence when called by the judges; they said standing up and speaking to the judges was the reason they were sentenced to six months during the last hearing on January 11.
The hearing for the verdict in the case, one of the high profile terrorism and criminal cases against opposition party members, is now re-adjourned until March 07/2018.
All the defendants, originally 22, have spent more than 18 months in jail (and 14 months after they were formally charged) when on July 13/2017, the court acquitted five of the 22 defendants, reduced the terrorism charge against Bekele Gerba to criminal charges, and ordered the remaining 16 to defend the terrorism charges brought by the federal prosecutors.
The court’s decision came after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn pledged to release “some prisoners” who are currently being prosecuted and to pardon some political leaders who have already been convicted and are serving their sentences as part of the government’s attempt to create a space for a national dialogue. Many have expected the likes of senior opposition political party leaders and members such as Gurmesa Ayano and Bekele Gerba among those to be released.