Federal Court Limits Court Access to Selected Media Companies in the High Profile Cases of Jawar Mohammed, Et.al

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The Ethiopian Federal Courts have restricted court access to only four selected media outlets in the ongoing high profile court cases against opposition party leaders, and others arrested following the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa and the chaotic aftermath sequencing the murder of the celebrated singer.

The four selected media companies, the Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation (EBC), Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) and Oromia Broadcast Network (OBN) are the only media companies that can attend the court sessions of Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Eskinder Nega, Yilkal Getnet, the suspected killers of Hachalu and the others that were detained relating to the unrest that destabilized the country for a week.

Journalists from other media outlets that tried to attend and report on the cases that were being held at Lideta First Instance Court were refused entrance to the court sessions. They were later escorted out of the premise by the Federal Police on multiple occasions.

However, journalists from the three state-owned media companies and the state-affiliated Fana BC were allowed to enter the court hearing after presenting a letter written by Federal Attorney General.

The Federal Police did not only refuse entry to journalists but also closed the court’s whole premise for everyone, including those that had court business as the place was under tight security surveillance.

According to officials at the Federal Supreme Court, the decision to restrict court access was made relating to the high sensitivity of the case and the current health pandemic, Coronavirus.

The institution believed that there was a lot of media interest in the ongoing cases, and it couldn’t allow all interested parties to attend the trial.

The court also argues that it took the COVID virus as a public health risk justifying its decision to restrict mass media from the cases.

Accordingly, four media companies were selected to attend and report on the sessions depending on their reach of access to the public and trustworthiness.

There are more than ten ongoing high profile court cases that were instigated after various incidents that followed the murder of the singer.

Hachalu was shot twice and killed in his car on the night of June 29, 2020, on the outskirts of the capital.

The 36-year-old, who was a politically significant figure among the Oromo community, was famous for his political songs that focused on freedom.

According to the Federal Attorney-General, the suspected killer is named Tilahun Yami and had two accomplices Abdi Alemayehu and Kebede Gemechu.

The attorney also claimed that all the three accused individuals accused of the murder belong to a faction of the Oromo Liberation Front, OLF Shine.

The Bloody Aftermath

The singer’s body was then taken to the St. Paul Hospital for forensic examination on the same night of his death and departed from the hospital to the singer hometown Ambo on the next morning.

However, the body did not reach its destination was returned to Addis Abeba, resulting in an incident that led to the arrest of prominent Oromo political figures. Hachalu was laid to rest a few days later in his hometown under tight security.

The assassination took the nation by shock and escalated political tensions that had been gripping Ethiopia lately, sparking protests, riots, and brutal killings across the country.

The government switched off the internet in an attempt to curb the unrest, which began immediately after Hachalu’s death was announced.

According to official statistics, at least 239 people were killed during a week of violent unrest in Ethiopia sparked by the assassination of a celebrated singer.

The high profile arrests

The leaders the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, along with 32 individuals including an entourage of Jawar and the two sons od Bekele were arrested on June 30, 2020, after a confrontation between them and Police resulted in the death of one Oromia Region State special force at Oromo Cultural Center near Meskel Square in Addis Abeba

A few days later, Eskinder Nega, founder and leader of the Balderas for True Democracy Party, was arrested on July 1, 2020, on the allegations of organizing an armed group in Addis Abeba and inciting violence.

On the next day, Yilikal Getnet, the chairperson of the Ethiopian National Movement (ENM), was put under police custody on July 2, 2020, on the suspicion instigating violence.

Relating to the murder, the Police arrested the alleged killer Tilahun Yami, the two accomplices and other individuals who were suspected of having involvement in the murder.

In response to the unrest, the Ethiopian government has also arrested more than 3500 people in various regions of the country, and investigations are still ongoing according to official reports.

The Jawar & Bekele Files

On their first court appearance, Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba were brought in front of the Federal First Instance Court, Arada Branch, on July 2, 2020.

Police accused them of allegedly intercepting the body of Hachalu at Burayu Town while it was on its way to his hometown.

The Police also stated that it had confiscated ten Kalashnikov rifles, ten pistols, and nine communication radios from Jawar’s private security.

Prosecutors appealed for additional days for the police investigation to complete their investigation. The federal judges granted the appeal giving custody rights to the Police over Bekele and Jawar, 11 days, and 13 days respectively.

On the second scheduled court date of Bekele held on July 13, 2020, the Police updated the court on the progress of the investigation they conducted and added that they were widening their inquiry calming they had evidence that linked Bekele to the violence that erupted in Shashemene.

The Police claimed that they had obtained phone call recordings made by Bekele to different parts of Oromia regional state ahead of his arrest, calling for violence and attack.

The Police also indicated that it had discovered two pistols inside his home and was investigating whether he had permission to possess them.

They also asked for an additional 14 days to organize the evidence gathered by the different teams dispatched to various parts of the Oromia regional state to investigate the extent of the damage caused by the violence.

The defense team of Bekele, on their part, denied the accusations and claimed the innocence of the accused, stating that Bekele had no link with the issue.

They argued that Bekele headed to the Oromo cultural center with the only intention of attending the farewell ceremony of the body of the artist.

The lawyers claimed that the body returned to Ambo following general consensus, in addition to the closure of the road in Ashewa Meda.

The lawyers added that there was no confrontation at the cultural center, and no one was killed because of their actions.

They added that the Police have failed to show the exact role Bekele took in the said crimes, and there was no evidence that supported their claim.

The defense team also noted that the attorney general was calming that it had gathered sufficient evidence on suspects on Media while it is saying it needs more time in the court. They asked for the court to deny the proposed additional time requested by the Police.

Judges at the Federal First Instance Court, Arada bench after hearing both sides gave the Police an additional time of 11 days for the Police to investigate the case setting the next court date on July 27, 2020.

Jawar was also brought in front of the court on his second court appearance on July 16, 2020. The Police told the court it had been collecting evidence and hearing witnesses on Jawar’s alleged crimes.

The Police collected has witness testimonies that show Jawar, and his followers forcefully took the singer’s body at Burayu and opened fire on security forces in the area.

The prosecutors argued that arising from the direct messages Jawar transmitted through various mediums, 14 people were killed in Addis Abeba as well as 167 in the Oromia region. They also claimed 200 million birr worth of damage was caused in Addis Abeba as a result of his messages.

Prosecutors requested the court to grant them additional time to investigate the alleged crimes further. They argued that they had found a Satellite receiver and other electronic items found in the suspect’s house, which requires investigation. They added that they were also seeing into the relationship the suspect had with OMN and the messages transmitted through the media.

The judge presiding over the case gave the police custody right over Jawar of 12 days and remanded the case to July 29, 2020.

The Eskinder Files

In the court hearing held on July 4, 2020, the prosecutors accused Eskinder of campaigning and dispatching groups claiming that an ethnic group was coming to attack residents of Addis Abeba and that they must defend themselves and fight off protestors.

In addition, according to the Police, Eskinder was arming and financing these groups, spreading misinformation and creating and fueling an ethnic and religious war, which was not the case. The Police also argued that Eskinder’s action resulted in the loss of 14 lives and property damage.

So far, the Police were granted custody rights over Eskinder for a total of 27 days on two occasions and his next court schedule at the end of this month.

Also, the court had ordered the Police to investigate the claim made by Eskinder that the Police beat him at the time of his arrest.

The Yilkal Files

After appearing in front of the judge at Arada Bench of the Federal First Instance Court, the Police were granted Police 14 days of custody rights for the investigation of Yilikal, who is suspected of the alleged instigation of violence.

During the court session that was held on the afternoon of Saturday, July 4, 2020, Police accused Yilikal of allegedly taking part in fueling political violence that occurred in the capital after the death of the famous singer.

Yilkal will make his second court appearance on July 18, 2020.