The Federal First Instance Court, Arada First Bench was expected to conclude the pre-trial ‘hearing’ of the cases involving three bloggers and three journalists on July 12, 2014. The trial has already taken more than 70 days without them being brought before the judge. Mr. Amaha, lawyer defending the bloggers and journalists who are detained on unclear (but shaping up to be on terrorism) charges expected the first instance court at Arada Bench to rest the pre-trial procedure on Saturday. The court had set the 12th July hearing for the updates on interrogations after a 28 days remand but with an extraordinary move the police referred the case to the Federal High Court without even the presence of the defendants and their lawyer. The shift overlooked the court and further contravenes the standard procedure of the biased justice system. The lawyer speaks to Dawit Solomon, a journalist based in Addis Ababa about the issue. Here are the translated excerpts from the interview.
DAWIT: What were your thoughts on your way to the court for Saturday’s hearing?
AMAHA: I expected the police to demand for more time to wrap up their interrogation as usual. I also sought to see how the court would reply to this repeated claim of the police. Nevertheless, to my shock of and all people who were there, what unfolded was really baffling. Since the detainees were not brought to the court some journalists went straight to the court’s registrar to ask about the case. Then a person who claimed to be“the detective” in case told journalists that since he was done with the interrogation he submitted the case to the prosecutor. He further claimed that the case was closed. This was what I was told by journalists and I verified that it was true. They closed the case without the presence of the detainees and without my presence even though I was representing them.
DAWIT: What action have you taken after you heard the aforesaid?
AMAHA: We went to the court’s compound way earlier than the scheduled time of the hearing so that when the detectives/police officers presented their arguments it wouldbe in our presence. I tried to explain our disappointment to the judge that the proceedings amounted to a grave breach of criminal procedure.
DAWIT: So what is the encroachment? Where is the breach of the law?
AMAHA: It was the same court that allowed the detectives to wrap up their interrogations within 28 days. Presumably up until now the detainees were under custody with at least (translator’s addition) the authorization of the court but from this moment on they are detained illegally without the sanction of the court. That is where the sort of encroachments lay. The police officers should have brought the defendants before the judge. They should have given details about the result of their investigations of the case to the court. It should have been the judge who should have determined if the case was valid. It should have been the court which decides to grant or deny bail for the defendants based on the details presented to the court. They have closed the case at the first instance court and kept the defendants illegally (translator’s addition) without all these procedures. That is why I said it is a breach of the law.
DAWIT: What will be next for the defendants? What can you do for them?
AMAHA: I will start a lawsuit on the behalf of the defendants. I need to guard the physical freedom of the defendants. I will wait until Monday since I have to get details about their lawsuit which they said they will begin on the defendants. I should learn details such as where and when will the lawsuits carry on. We need to file for habeas corpus
DAWIT: So where will you apply for habeas corpus?
AMAHA: I will start the lawsuit at the Federal High Court.
DAWIT: Since last week the bloggers and journalists are allowed to be visited by their loved ones with the exception of Blogger Abel Wabella. What is the reason for that? Have you tried to find out the reason?
AMAHA: I have had permission to visit the detainees at least once a week. Even though it is just for a single day I had a chance to speak with eight of them whom I represent in court. Now I am told that the permission is limited to meet with just one of the detainees within a day. By this pace it would take me about four weeks to speak to all eight of the detainees. This is another serious breach of the law. The defendants’ constitutional right of speaking with their lawyer/s should be respected.
Regarding Abel I have heard that he hashad some disagreements with the detectives during interrogations. But I should confirm this from Abel himself.
DAWIT: We have heard that the bloggers and journalists are forced to make false confessions. They were under extreme duress to make a clean breast of actions they have never participated and documents they have never produced. What does the law say about admissibility of confessions that are induced through coercion? Please tell me details especially in relation with anti-terrorism law?
AMAHA: Regarding confessions made to police officers the criminal procedure has established a series of rules. Confessions that are reportedly induced through coercion is not admissible before the court or the judge. People should not be forced to make confessions.
DAWIT: It is expected the other three groups of bloggers will be brought to court on July 14, Monday afternoon. Considering what happened on Saturday will you anticipate the bloggers to be brought before the court?
AMAHA: No I don’t expect that they will be brought before the court but I will honor the date and I will be in attendance in case they are.
DAWIT: Thank you!
In related news, the pre-trial hearing of the remaining three bloggers: Mahlet Fantahune, Befeqadu Hailu and Abel Wabella was not conducted on June 14 as expected. Though there was a court appointment for a hearing for the afternoon, the police, through a letter, successfully made a request to the court to close the “remand file”. In the letter, the police mentioned that it had finished its investigations and had handed over the investigations file to the prosecutor’s office.
The lawyer appearing for the accused persons, Mr Amaha said that the new developments reflected yet another breach of criminal procedure. The Ethiopian criminal procedure gives a prosecutor two weeks of preparation time to open regular charges after receiving a full investigation file from the police. In regards to that, the lawyer expects to get hold of the formal charges in the coming days, before advising further.