15 February 2019

Ethiopia: Court Okays Prosecutors' Request for Witness Protection in Ex-Somali President Case

Judges at the federal High Court 4th Criminal Bench here in the capital have, today, accepted federal prosecutors' request to withhold list of witnesses from the defense team in high profile criminal case involving former Somali regional state president Abdi Muhamud Omer a.k.a Abdi Iley.

Prosecutors have argued to withhold the list of names in favor of witnesses protection due to the nature of the criminal case, which includes, but not limited to, indictments of 47 individuals with high level human rights abuse, attempt to violently overthrow the constitutional order and attempt to incite inter-communal violence in Somali regional state during the weekend of August 04/2018.

However, out of the total of 47 defendants in the same case, only six are currently under police custody. They include, Abd Muhamud Omer; Rahma Mohammed Haybe, former head of women and children's affairs bureau; and Abdulrezak Sehane Elmi, former head of the diaspora affairs office of the Somali regional state; as well as Ferhan Tahir, former police commissioner commissioner of the region, and two individuals: Worseme Sheik Abdi and Guled Obel Dawud.

Of the six defendants, only the first four have their charges formally read out for them and know the details of the charges (with Abdi telling the court last week that he recognizes all charges as nothing but "deliberately coordinated lies"). However, Worseme Sheik Abdi and Guled Obel Dawud have not received copies of the charges nor have they been briefed about it due to lack of Somali language translators at the court. The judges have ruled today for a presence of translators as of the next hearing, which is set for February 27.

Background

On January 25, the Attorney General's office revealed that the August violence resulted in the killings of 58 people while 266 were injured. the report by the AG also revealed a gruesome details which were previously unreported, including the discovery of a mass grave where the remains of 42 of the victims was found. Eight more bodies were discovered inside the premises of St. Michael Church in Jigjiga city. The report also said ten women were raped in just a span of three days but added there could be more unreported cases of rapes. And properties worth about 421 million birr were also vandalized in the violence. AS

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