Addis Abeba — The Federal Attorney General (AG) has appealed at the Supreme Court to continue blocking the medical treatment of four of the imprisoned leaders and members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) who are on hunger strike with only water consumption since January 27.
The AG's office filed an appeal on February 18 at the Federal Supreme Court after on February 17 judges at the Federal High Court upheld, for the second time, their earlier decision to allow medical treatment of the prisoners on hunger strike including Bekele Gerba, Deputy Chairman of OFC . The prisoners on hunger strike also include Dejene Tafa, OFC executive member, Jawar Mohammed, as well Hamza Adane, both members of the party. However, it is Bekele Gerba's health which is "deteriorating" according to defense lawyers, that triggered the AG's office to appeal against the treatment of Bekele at Landmark hospital, a private hospital.
On February 16, security forces have forcibly transferred Bekele to the Armed Forces General Hospital, commonly known as Torhayloch Hospital, while he was being taken to Landmark accompanied by his doctors and prison and federal security forces. Dr. Illili Jamal, the lead medical doctor taking care of the prisoners told Addis Standard later on that the ambulance carrying Bekele was diverted to the Armed Hospital after security forces received a letter signed by Gedion Timotiwos, the Attorney General, ordering them to take the patient to the Armed Hospital. After hours of standoff and refusal by Bekele to be treated at the hospital, he was taken back to Kality federal prison.
In its appeal at the Supreme Court, the AG mentions four reasons for why the prisoners should not receive the medical treatment at a private hospital as per to the lower court's decision, the appeal letter reviewed by Addis Standard reads. Two of the four reasons describe the High Court's failure to evaluate the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners thoroughly and failure to check with rules stated in the federal constitution, including principles of equality, before ruling in favor of a treatment at a private hospital.
The AG's appeal also describe disregard to the ruling by High Court on February 13 as the third reason for the appeal stating that the ruling by the court has given the prisoners three alternatives: getting treatment at the prison clinic; if they don't agree, getting treatment at a private hospital, but only if it is deemed that such arrangements pose no danger to public safety, and in the event private hospitals pose such danger the prisoners to be treated at the Armed Forces General Hospital. In the four point, the AG argued that the decision to treat the prisoners at a private hospital contravenes the federal prison administration's founding articles which state that treatment of prisoners are to be referred to other hospitals based only on recommendation from the prison clinics.
Upon receiving the appeal, the Supreme Court ordered the prisoners to appear at 8:30 local time today. However, the prisoners were prevented from leaving the premises of the Kality prison after an order was passed to the prison security from the AG's office. Although the registrar office the Supreme Court disagreed with the notion and requested instead for the prisoners to appear in person, the prison administration couldn't facilitate their transfer to the court due to continued "order from above." Defense lawyer Tuli Bayisa told Addis standard that his clients were then asked to attend the hearing via plasma, which the prisoners refused saying they were summoned by the Supreme Court to appear in person.
Subsequently, the appeal hearing took place in the absence of the prisoners and judges have adjourned the next hearing until February 23,2021 to pass a decision on the AG's appeal.
Similarly, a separate hearing was called by judges at the Federal High Court demanding answers from the kality Prison Administration on why the court's ruling allowing the prisoners to receive medical treatment at a private hospital was not respected.
Three staff members from Kaliti prison administration who appeared at the court on behalf of the prison administration said they were not directly responsible to enforce the court's ruling. The presiding judges have therefore ordered the prison administration to send officials who are responsible for the matter and adjourned the next hearing until February 23, 2021. AS