The Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) leaders Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, along with 12 other accused individuals, have requested the withdrawal of the judge who is presiding over their case.
The accused submitted their seven-page request, today when the court was ready to hear witnesses in a pre-trial hearing at Lideta Federal First Instance Court.
Through their defense lawyers, Jawar and the others contested the impartiality of the presiding judge and appealed for his removal.
After several court appearances, Jawar and the others suspected of various criminal charges were supposed to be finally charged with a crime after the court ruled that the police had enough time to finish its investigation.
However, on August 6, 2020, when the accused were waiting to be charged with the suspected crimes, prosecutors’ instead asked for a pre-trial hearing.
While it was in the legal right of the Federal Attorney General to ask for a pre-trial, some took the prosecutors’ request as a sign that the police did not finish its investigation and was stalling.
Ethiopian law permits preliminary judicial hearing when the accused are suspected of serious criminal charges.
The hearing is used to determine whether the public prosecutor’s evidence against the accused is enough to open a trial in a court with jurisdiction.
At the first pre-trial hearing last week, despite the defense lawyers arguing against it, the judge allowed the prosecutors to bring their witnesses in a closed court as well as to hide five witnesses’ identities.
Following this last court session, the case was adjourned for today to hear the witnesses. However, as the defense lawyer requested the judge’s removal, the presiding judge remanded the case to review the request.
According to Ethiopian law, the same judge who presides over the case also rules over judge removal requests. Nevertheless, the accused have the right to appeal the decision of the judge.
Following a ruling over the withdrawal request, the pre-trial hearing will resume either presiding over by the same judge, or by a new one.