Ethiopia's Federal Supreme Court has today accepted the appeal for bail from the defense team of prominent opposition figure Bekele Gerba, first Secretary General of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). The Supreme court's decision overrules a decision on Aug. 10 by a panel of three judges at the federal high court 4th criminal bench, which denied Bekele's request for bail. The Supreme Court ruled to grant Bekele's bail for 30, 000 birr (about US$1, 094. 00.)
Bekele Gerba was first charged in April 2016 along with 21 defendants. Other defendants with him include Dejene Fita Geleta, Secretary General of OFC, and Gurmesa Ayano, another senior member of the party. They were initially charged with various articles of Ethiopia's infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) including but not limited to, alleged membership of the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), public incitement, encouraging violence, as well as causing the death of innocent civilians and property destruction in cities such as Ambo and Adama, 125km west and 100km east of Addis Abeba, during the 2015-2016 Oromo protests in Ethiopia.
However, after more than a year and six months in jail and 14 months after they were formally charged, the Federal high court 4th criminal bench acquitted five of the 22 defendants, reduced the terrorism charge against Bekele Gerba to criminal charges, and ordered the remaining 16 to defend the terrorism charges brought by the federal prosecutors.
In the case of Bekele Gerba (pictured above), the federal high court ruled that he should defend not the terrorism charges he was originally accused of, which included Art. 3/1, 4, and 6 of the ATP, but article 257/A of the 2004 Criminal Code.
Although Bekele Gerba can now defend the charges against him from outside the confines of the Qilinto prison, one of Ethiopia's maximum security prisons notorious for its abusive track record, he is facing grave criminal accusations under the main section of "Violence against the national state", which includes, among others, "outrage against the constitution, obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers, and armed uprising and civil war."
Art. 257/A under "Provocation and Preparation", which Bekele is accused of violating, states that "whoever, with the object of committing or supporting any of [the above] acts, publicly provokes them by word of mouth, images or writing," is "punishable with simple imprisonment, or where the foreseeable consequences of his activities are particularly grave, with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding ten years."
"We are relieved that the Supreme court granted my father the bail, but we are at the same time worried that he is facing serious criminal charges; we are even more worried because we know all the charges against him were politically motivated," said Boontu Bekele, his daughter, in a phone interview with Addis Standard. Boontu said they expect Bekele to walk out of prison as early as tomorrow afternoon, "but we have to wait and see because sometimes the prison administration acts above the law," she said.
Bekele Gerba, who is the fourth defendant in the file name of Gurmesa Ayano et.al, was detained on Dec. 23 2015. His arrest is the second time since 2011, during which he was sentenced to eight years in prison suspected of allegedly belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). He spent almost four of the eight years before he was freed in April 2015. In a May 2015 interview with Addis Standard, Bekele Gerba, known for his outspoken criticism of widespread injustices in Ethiopia, said prison was "not a place one appreciates to be. But I think it is also the other way of life as an Ethiopian; unfortunately it has become the fate of many of our people."
Bekele Gerba will be back to the federal high court 4th criminal bench on Monday Nov. 06 to begin defending the criminal charges against him. Currently, more than three dozens of the OFC leadership and rank and file members are in jail, including the party's chairman Dr. Merera Gudina, who is facing multiple criminal charges. AS