Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and other high government officials summoned as defense witnesses to next hearing
Federal high court Lideta branch 4th criminal bench has heard three defense witnesses of Gurmessa Ayano et al. of which one witness is for first defendant Gurmessa Ayano and the other two for fourth defendant Bekele Gerba.
The first witness was Gurmessa Ayano who testified for his codefendant Bekele Gerba. Gurmessa told the court that he has come to know Bekele Gerba at Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and he first met him in October 11/2015 at a party meeting. Before that time, he only knew him through the media. The witness said that both Bekele and the witness himself are executive members of OFC. Gurmessa also noted that Bekele Gerba is Vice Chairperson of OFC and the party decides on issues only if the quorum is fulfilled.
Gurmessa remembered that he saw Bekele only at two meetings, on 11 Oct 2015 and 5 Dec 2015. Gurmessa said Bekele Gerba had entered to election campaigns as soon as he was released from prison and then he went to abroad and returned to his regular activities back home. Bekele was also processing and preparing to continue his education which he withdrew due to the arrest. As a result, he was not regularly attending party meetings in person and he would sometimes be informed of the decisions on the phone, the witness testified.
On the issue of 2016 public protests in Oromia region and OFC’s reaction as well as Bekele’s stand, the witness testified as follows;
“We tried our best to bring the government to genuine dialogue. We wrote letters to government bodies. We released statements as a party. We have never done road blockades and property damages. Bekele Gerba has never ordered anyone to block roads and damage properties. OFC has never done such things, and the government knows this very well. I was reading what Bekele was writing on Facebook. I have never seen anything that would support any violent action or inciting statements. Rather he was calling youths not to damage any property. He was telling us this in meetings too. ‘We shall not enter to violent means despite the government has become violent. People would be hurt in violence’, was his words. I know that Bekele’s strategy is always nonviolent. He has a strong stand on peaceful struggle. Bekele opposes land grabbing and evictions of farmers as well as the unconstitutional master plan. As far as I know, Bekele has never incited any ethic clash. He believes in the equality of nations and peoples. I know that we are working together with all nationalities peacefully.”
Replying to prosecutor cross-examination question on how could he know whether Bekele has committed incitement or not, Gurmessa said, “such activities, incitement, are strictly forbidden at OFC. Bekele is one of the leaders of the party. He has the responsibility to respect this OFC’s rules and help others respect it. Bekele never believes in violence.”
Bekele Gerba objected prosecutor’s question for the witness on whether the witness knew that Bekele incited violence via phone calls or not. “Gurmessa Ayano is my defense witness, not prosecutor witness. If the prosecutor thinks that I did incite over phone, then he should have brought a witness for this accusation,” Bekele objected.
At the middle of this session, the prosecutor requested the court to let the hearing recessed for lunch as the day is Friday and lunch break starts 30 minutes earlier than other working days. “Besides, I am hungry. I have a gastric, I have to eat. I cannot discharge my responsibility here while I am hungry,” said the prosecutor.
Bekele Gerba on his part said, “Such things are not expected from an institution. And this is not respectful to the court. We are attending the hearing without having lunch here. Maybe the prosecutor is requesting this to have time to receive an order from his bosses.”
As the afternoon hearing started, Bekele Gerba presented complain. “We went to the toilet as the morning session ended. They gave single bread for each of us and wanted us to eat without washing our hands. We are here without having lunch. We are happy that prosecutor’s health has improved after having good lunch.” Court has said nothing on this complaint and preceded to the defense witnesses hearing directly.
Prosecutor asked the defense witness again if he could know whether Bekele incited violence via phone conversations. Defense witness Gurmessa replied that “You better to ask this question to telecom center on the defendant’s private conversations. If you are asking me his political view, I still can tell you that Bekele is a leader who works in accordance with OFC principles and other laws.”
The second defense witness for Bekele Gerba was Gutu Mulisa who prosecutor mentioned in the charge that Bekele Gerba dialed him and told him that Oromo’s land should not be given to “Gurages” and “Siltes.” Gutu Mulisa is a member of OFC who lives in Addis Ababa. He testified that Bekele and he only talked over the phone once when Bekele returned from abroad. And that was for greetings and they didn’t talk about the land issue at all.
The final defense witness for the day was Lumba Demssie who testified for first defendant Gurmessa Ayano on the accusation that he incited violence over the phone.
“I know Gurmessa as a leading member of OFC. I am a leading member of Ethiopia Social Democrat Party in which both parties are members of Medrek Coalition. We talked about both on our social and political issues. I know that we both chose to struggle in peaceful and legal means,” the defense witness testified.
Meanwhile, the court summoned Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, HPRs Speaker Abadula Gemeda, Oromia Region President Lemma Megerssa, Abiy Ahmed, Chaltu Sani to appear before the court as defense witnesses for they are called by 1-4 defendants in this charge file. Besides, jailed prominent opposition figure Andualem Arage is also called as a defense witness and summoned to appear in the next hearing.
The court adjourned the next defense witnesses hearing to the Ethiopian year, Nov 6 & 7/2017.