The first instance court of Arada bench was expected to wrap up the pre-trial ‘hearing’ which took more than 70 days and yet the bloggers were not even brought before the judge. Mekonnen, a lawyer defending the bloggers & journalists who are detained on unclear but shaping up to be on terrorism charges expected the first instance court at Arada bench to rest the pre-trial procedure last Saturday. The court had set the 12th July hearing for closing arguments but with an extraordinary move the police referred the case to the Federal High Court without even the presence of neither the defendants nor their defense lawyer himself. The shift overlooked the court and contravenes even the standard procedure of the biased justice system. The lawyer speaks to Dawit Solomon, a journalist based in Addis Ababa about the issue. Here are the translated excerpts from the interview.
DAWIT: What were your thoughts on your way to the court for Saturday’s procedure?
|Amaha Mekonen Defense Lawyer of Zone 9 bloggers & Journalists|
AMAHA: I expected the police might demand for more time to wrap up their interrogation as usual. I also sought to see how the court would reply to this repeated claim of the police. Nevertheless, to the shock of me and all people who were here what unfolded was really baffling. Since the detainees were not brought to the court some journalists went straight to the court’s registrar to ask about the case. Then a person who claimed himself as “the detective” of the case told the journalists since he is done with the interrogation he submitted the case for a prosecutor. He further claimed that the case is closed. This was what I was told by the journalists then I also went in to verify which I found it true. They closed the case without the presence of neither my clients nor me who is representing them.
DAWIT: What action have you taken after you heard?
AMAHA: We have been to court’s compound way earlier than the scheduled time of the hearing. When the detectives/police officers presented their arguments it should be in our presence. I have tried to explain our disappointment to the judge. This is basically a grave breach of law.
DAWIT: So what is the encroachment? Where is the breach of the law?
AMAHA: It is this court that allowed the detectives to wrap up their interrogations within 28 days. Presumably up until now the defendants were under custody with at least (translator’s addition) the authorization of the court but from this moment on they are detained illegally without the sanction of the court. That is where the sort of encroachments lay. The police officers should have brought the defendants before the judge. They should have given details about the result of their investigation of the case to the court. It should have been the judge who should have determined if the case is liable. It should have been the court which decides to grant or deny bail for the defendants based on the details presented to the court. They have closed the case at the first instance court and kept the defendants illegally (translator’s addition) without all these procedures. That is why I said it is a breach of law.
DAWIT: What will be next for the defendants? What can you do for them?
AMAHA: I will start a lawsuit on the behalf of the defendants. I need to guard the physical freedom of the defendants. I will wait until Monday (July 14, 2014) since I have to get details about their lawsuit which they said they will begin on the defendants. I should learn details such as where and when will the lawsuits carry on.
DAWIT: So where will you launch the lawsuit to safeguard the individual freedom of the defendants and to require the police to bring the defendants before a judge or into court?
AMAHA: I will start the lawsuit at the Federal High Court.
DAWIT: Since last week the bloggers and journalists are allowed to be visited by their loved ones with the exception of Abel Wabela. What is the reason for him? Have you tried to find out the reason?
|Blogger Abel Wabela, handcuffed & in white shirt|
AMAHA: I have had a permission to visit the detainees at least once a week. Even though it is just for a single day I had a chance to speak with eight of them whom I represent in the court. Now I am told that the permission is limited to meet with just one of the detainees within a day. By this pace it would take me about four weeks to speak to all eight of the detainees. This is another serious breach of law. The defendants’ constitutional right of speaking with their lawyers should be respected.
Regarding Abel I have heard that he had some disagreements with the detectives who are assigned to investigate his case. But I should confirm this from Abel himself.
DAWIT: We have heard that the bloggers and journalists are forced to make false confessions. They were under extreme duress to make a clean breast of actions they have never participated and documents they have never produced. What does the law say about admissibility of confessions that are induced through coercion? Please tell me details especially in relation with anti-terrorism law?
AMAHA: Regarding confessions made to police officers the criminal procedure has established a series of rules. Confessions that are reportedly induced through coercion are not that admissible before the court or the judge. People should not be forced to confess on themselves.
DAWIT: It is expected the other three group of bloggers will be brought to court this afternoon (Monday). Considering what happened on Saturday will you anticipate the blogger to be brought before the court?
AMAHA: No I don’t expect they will be brought but I will honor the date and I will be in attendance
DAWIT: Thank you!
Note: This is not a literal translation (word to word translations) but contextual translations