The Federal High court fourth criminal bench has passed a guilty verdict against Yonatan Tesfaye, former opposition Blue Party public relations head.
Yonatan was first arrested in December 2015, barely a month after the first wave of a year-long #Oromoprotests erupted. He was held incommunicado during the pre-trial weeks and was subsequently charged in May 2016 under Ethiopia’s infamous anti-terrorism proclamation (ATP).
Yonatan has been defending the charges against him since then. The charges of ‘encouragement of terrorism’, stipulated under article six of the ATP, were largely drawn from his Facebook activism during the protests. According to article six of the ATP, “Whosoever publishes or causes the publication of a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducements to them to the commission or preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism…” is subject to terrorism charges.
He had presented several defense witnesses, including prominent opposition party leaders from the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Bekele Gerba and Dr. Merera Gudina, who are in jail at the time of their testimony fighting charges of terrorism and multiple criminal charges respectively, and journalist Eskendir Nega, who is serving 18 years in prison for terrorism-related charges.
In addition, Yonatan’s close friend Ephrem Tayachew, his father Tesfaye Regassa, and his sister Gedamnesh Tesfaye as well as academicians from the Addis Abeba University (AAU), including the outspoken philosopher Dr. Dagnachew Assefa and Dr. Yaqob Hailemariam have all appeared in court to testify in defense of Yonatan’s innocence.
However, on May 16, 2017 the court in its verdict overruled all defense testimonials by upholding prosecutors’ accusations. Yonatan’s sentencing is adjourned to May 25, 2017.
Yonatan could face from ten to 20 years rigorous prison term in a federal prison; however, the court ruled that he can appeal for a minimum sentence.
***According to new information Addis Standard received, after the sentencing is handed over, Yonatan’s defense team, led by his lawyer Shibiru Belete, is planning to object to the verdict and appeal for the charges to be reduced to criminal charges.