Ethiopia: News - Jawar Mohammed Tells Fed. Court He Is Being Held At a Basement in Unmarked Building - Judges Grant Police 14 More Days

(File photo).

Addis Abeba — Tuuli Baayyis, the defense lawyer for Jawar Mohammed, told Addis Standard that his client has told presiding judges at Lideta Division of the Federal High Court deferment bench that he was detained at a basement of an unmarked house in Addis Abeba in an area commonly known as Mexico Square.

According to defense lawyer Tuuli, during today's pretrial hearing his client has also complained of being kept in a room where there was no light and without adequate contact with his defense team and visitations from family members as well as mere two visits to rest room per day - in the morning and in the evening.

The judges have told the police, in whose custody Jawar and 34 others are currently detained, that he should be allowed regular family visitation, decent detention facility, client confidentiality and "should be handled with dignity" and granted the 14 more days the police requested to remand and investigate Jawar.

The Police said they were investigating and gathering more evidence to back up their claims against Jawar and have already interviewed 41 witnesses and have gathered statements from the all the 35 detainees; various letters were also sent to several government offices and are awaiting responses. Accordingly, the judges adjourned the next hearing on July 22.

Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, both members of Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), were detained along with 33 others on Tuesday June 30, a day after the assassination of prominent Oromo artist Haccaaluu Hundessaa.

Federal Police Commission Deputy Commissioner Zelalem Mengiste said on July 02 that they were detained following a confrontation with security forces on the burial place of artist Haccaaluu during which a member of Oromia Special Force was killed and three others were injured.

The police have subsequently accused Jawar, Bekele and the 33 others of attempting to forcefully return the body of the artist which was en route to his birth place in Ambo to Addis Abeba without the wishes of the family. Police also accused Jawar and other others of premeditated intent to incite violence using a ten day period of mourning, as well as using Oromo media Network (OMN) to incite violence, a charge the accused dismiss.

This is the second court appearance for Jawar after both him and Bekele Gerba first appeared at the Federal High Court, Arada Division First Instance Court on July 02. They were adjourned separately for July 13 and July 16.

Accordingly, Bekele Gerba has appeared at the Federal First High Court First Division, Arada criminal Bench on Monday July 13. During the pretrial hearing the police have said they have evidence from Bekele's phone which he used to call and organize protest rallies in the aftermath of Haccaaluu's assassination. Police added that seven separate investigation team was established and dispatched to assess the damages after protests turned violent in various parts of Oromia.

The police have also said that in addition to weapons and communication radio confiscated when the 35 individuals were arrested, they have found two pistols at the residence of Bekele and demanded more days to remand and investigate him.

Bekele denied all the accusations and disputes the police's account of events. He told the judges on Monday that he was on his way to Ambo to attend the funeral when he learned that the body was returning to Addis Abeba because the roads were blocked. He said he then joined the crowed of mourners who were returning the body to Oromo Cultural Center near Mesqel Square. He also disputes police's statement that a shooting was involved during the process and said that instead there was a peaceful discussion at the Oromo Cultural Center in the presence of Deputy Mayor of Addis Abeba, Takele Uma, and a second individual who Bekele said he thinks was from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office. Bekele also told the judges that agreement was reached after discussions and the deputy mayor and the second individual have left to send a chiller vehicle for the body. Subsequently, members of Oromia police force came to collect the body and were told they can take it. However, Bekele said, Jawar and the rest, including himself, were told a few minutes later that they were being arrested.

Along with Bekele were also his daughter Bontu, his son Samuel and his nephew Kiyya Belachew, who were detained at a school compound. But in today's hearing the judges ordered the release of all three whom the police initially accused of collaborating with Bekele.

The judges granted the police 10 more days to remand and investigate Bekele and adjourned the next hearing on July 28.

The police have divided the case for Jawar, Bekele and the 33 others detained with them into three separate files. So far Jawar's file is being processed separately, in which he is the lone accused. The file for Hamza Borana, another OFC member, and seven others, as well as Bekele Gerba and 16 others are being processed separately.

In today's pretrial hearing, the judges have also granted the police 14 more days to remand and investigate Hamza and the seven others in his file.

COVID-19 isolation

In a related development, 12 of the 35 people who are detained in Addis Abeba Police Commission Compound in Piassa, commonly known as the 3rd Police Station, are in isolation along with five police officers after being suspected of displaying COVID-19 symptoms, Ebbissa Gamadda, another member of the defense team told Addis Standard.

During the pretrial hearing on Monday July 13, one of the 17 individuals in Bekele's file didn't show up at the court after having already been isolated for showing symptoms of the virus. However, Bekele Gerba is not held in the same detention facility with the 12 who are now in isolation.

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