A judge at the Arada First Instance Court, First Bench, told the police this morning to finalize its investigations and bring charges against three independent journalists and three members of the blog Zone9 detained without charges since 25th and 26th of April this year.
Defense lawyer Amha Mekonnen told journalists at the scene of the court that the judge has told the police to finalize their investigations and bring charges during the next appearance, which is adjourned for Sunday July 13th.
An earlier indictment filed by the police accuses the detainees of accepting money and working with foreign organizations and rights activists and using social media to destabilize the country and that it requested the court for more days to establish evidence supporting its claim.
From Left: Natinael, Edom and Atinaf
However, the police have not yet been able to present sufficient evidence but kept on asking for more days claiming the investigation has taken a complex nature. In three different appearances so far, the police have claimed that they needed more time to finalize translating documents written in English into Amharic, looking into bank transfer details, and interviewing collaborators. Today, the police have said they haven’t finished looking into bank transfer details; they have also said although the police have interviewed some witnesses, many of the collaborators of the detainees that they wanted to interrogate have gone into hiding in the countryside.
From left: Zalalem and Asmamaw
In today’s court appearance, however, the judge told the police that she wanted them to finalize enough evidence and in all the allegations the police have made so far during the next court appearance, according to defense lawyer Amha.
On May 17th the police have said that all the detainees were to be charged with the country’s infamous anti-terrorism proclamation 652/2009. The proclamation grants the police to request 28 days during each court appearance for four times until charges are brought against detainees. Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation is widely criticized for being indiscriminately broad and open for interpretation.
From Left: Tesfalem, Zelalem and Asmamaw (Back)
This morning the police have brought Journalist Tesfalem Wadyes, a freelance journalist who was writing for the weekly English Fortune and the monthly Addis Standard, journalist Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, senior editor at an influential Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, and journalist Edom Kassaye, who previously worked at state daily Addis Zemen Newspaper and an active member of the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA) and a close associate of Zone9 bloggers; as well as three members of the blog Zone9 Atnaf Berhane IT professional, Natnail Feleke from the Construction and Business Bank, and Zelalem Kibret, from Ambo University.
The case for the other three members of the blog Zone9: Mahlet Fantahun, Data expert, Befekadu Hailu from St. Mary’s University College, Abel Wabella, an employee of Ethiopian Airlines. They case is adjourned for June 28th.
The hearings are still being conducted behind closed doors and there is a large presence of armed police officers who are tightly guarding hundreds of fans who continue to show up to expresses their solidarity with the detainees.