This legal summary focuses on the legality of FDRE Public Prosecutor Vs Soleyana Shimeles et al criminal case in light of the basic human rights principles. Relevant human rights principles under the FDRE Constitution and other multilateral and regional treaties in which Ethiopia is party are scrutinized. Ethiopia charged six bloggers and three journalists who were under custody and one blogger in absentia. The defendants were charged with an act of terrorism under two degrees of participation, as of principal offender and conspiracy. After lengthy trial, the charge against five of defendants was dropped by the decision of the Prosecutor and the rest of five defendants, are acquitted from by a verdict rendered by the Court. The 2nd defendant, Befekadu Hailu is ordered to defend a case in accordance with the criminal code.
Since the charge failed to fulfill constitutional and procedural requirement, the Court, upon the request of the defendants ordered the Prosecutor to amend the charge for two times. An ‘amended’ charge, failing to amend most of the points in accordance with the order of court, made only a single substantial difference from the previous charge i.e. incorporating a terror act, creating serious risk to the safety or health of the public and section of the public. In addition to not fulfilling procedural requirements, the trial continues with a charge that incorporates acts, which do not constitute as of crimes. Regardless of the failure of the Court to be abide with its own order, the defendants request for the resignation of the presiding judge were refused by the other two judges. In the course of plea, some of the defendants denied their request for clarifications of the charge. The Court further failed to record the statements of the defendants while they plead not guilty.
The Prosecutor produced documentary evidences, ‘confessions’, exhibits and witnesses. The manner in which the documentary evidences were annexed to and listed under the charge is complicated. In spite of the basic legal principle that criminal law has no retrospective effect, some the documentary evidences aim to prove an act committed before the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Most of the confessions were provided under duress and without access to legal counseling. Despite the defendants claim to the lower Court and Human Rights Commission that their confessions were gave under torture; defendants’ legal entitlement not to be compelled to make self-incrimination; and clear evidentiary law that confessions under duress are inadmissible, all the confessions were admitted and counted as of evidences. Subject to bias and contrary to clear indication of the procedural law, exhibits were kept at the police but not the Registrar of the Court. Despite the mere fact that the content of the CD rather that the object itself could be counted as evidence, the defendants were denied to have access to the 12 CDs adduced against them. Regardless of any denial by the defendants, the Prosecutor presented lists of witnesses who had testified on the belongingness of the exhibits and that of printed documentary evidences.
The Court, hearing witnesses on undisputed facts and making repetitive adjournments without good causes, had failed to protect the defendants’ right to have speedy trial. In the due course of the trial, quotations from the charge and statements made by high-ranking state officials had referred the defendants as terrorists and members of terror organizations. Addis Ababa Remand Prisoners Center (Kilinto prison) at different occasion failed to keep the defendants’ right of being respected and treated with human dignity. Addis Ababa Female Remand Prisoners Center (Kality prison) failed to protect the female defendants’ human right to be visited, that there was limitations on the period of time and family members who could visit. Both prison administrations prohibited the defendants from collect books brought to them and to make written correspondences with the outside.
Considering procedural law requirements on deciding the amount of bail, the amount of bail bond granted to the 2nd defendant is excessive. Despite any legal stipulation, the bail includes ban of the 2nd defendant from going abroad. Irrespective of any legal stipulation or Court order, the government of Ethiopia violated the right to movement of one of the defendants, Zelalem Kibret.
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