Gurmessa Ayano et al’s defense witnesses hearing continued – (August 15/2017 hearing)

Qilinto prison administration officers failed to respect court order

Federal high court Lideta branch 4th criminal bench heard defense witnesses of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) leadership members under Gurmessa Ayano charge file who are defending terrorism charge except for the fourth defendant Bekele Gerba who is ordered only defend incitement of violence charges. The court heard two defense witnesses (OFC leadership members Mr. Mulatu Gemechu and Mr. Tiruneh Gemta) for 1st defendant Gurmessa Ayano, 2nd defendant Dejene Tafa, 3rd defendant Addisu Bulala and 4th defendant Bekele Gerba on 15/2017 hearing.

Noting that they are executive members of OFC, the two defense witnesses explained to the court that their activity was in a group, as an executive body of their party.  Both witnesses testified that their party evaluated the 2016/2017 public protests in Oromia region and concluded that have been public demands for their right to be respected. They have also reminded the court that the government of Ethiopia via the prime minister admitted that the protests were erupted due to lack of good governance and justice.

The witnesses testified that OFC decided to encourage the public to present their concerns in a peaceful manner and requested the government to give a proper and peaceful response to public demands. Accordingly, the OFC executive, including those charged decided to support the public in demanding their rights in peaceful and legal means. They didn’t participate in any of road blockage and property damage in any way, according to the two defense witnesses.

Besides, the two defense witnesses explained that OFC wrote letters demanding the government to stop the killings of innocents during protests to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, House of People Representatives and other concerned bodies. OFC also gave statements that condemn government crackdowns on peaceful protesters. (Defendants submitted copies of these letters and statements as defense evidence.) Defense witnesses also told the court that OFC was working to hold public meetings aiming to stabilize the public, but failed to get permission from the government.

Witness Mulatu Gemechu testified that first defendant Mr. Gurmessa Ayano was sent to Burayu town by the party’s decision to discuss with the public. The witness himself was also sent to Legetafo town for the same purpose. There were others who were sent to different places in Finfine Zuria where protests were intensified due to high land grabbing. All these OFC executives were sent to such places to discuss with the public and stabilize the situation, according to the defense witness.

Prosecutor in his cross-examination asked if the witnesses know whether the defendants hold a separate meeting without the knowledge and aim of the party. Witness Tiruneh Gemta replied that the party law has its own monitoring system if there are any of such things happening. And the defendants were working according to the law. There were no reports which show that defendants held any meeting other than the party ones. Measures would have been taken against them had they violated the party law, he testified.

As the hearing of the two defense witnesses completed, the court ordered the police to allow defendants receive the lunch that families would provide and noted to continue remaining witness hearings in the afternoon.

However, prison police failed to respect court order and defendants were restricted from receiving the meal from families. The court requested an explanation from officer Gebre on why police refused to respect the order. Officer Gebre told the court that the one who restricted the food from families was Super attendant Assefa Kidane who is Qilinto prison administration head.

Accordingly, the court failed to hear remaining witnesses in the afternoon and adjourned the hearing for next day (August 16/2017) and ordered the prison administration head Assefa Kidane who restricted lunch from families to appear before the court and explain why he did refuse the court order.


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