By BARNABAS SHIFERAW
April 27, 2020
Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association has announced that it is closely following the case of Ms. Elsabet Kebede, a lawyer who has been imprisoned illegally by the government several weeks ago.
Elsabet was arrested in Addis Ababa, where she resides, by the local Police and, after spending the night in prison, sent to Harari region where she was accused by the regional district attorney’s office of “spreading false information about the spread of COVID-19.
According to the association, although Elsabet has argued that her case falls outside of the regional court’s jurisdiction and asked the court to dismiss the case for this reason, the court has overruled her argument. Additionally, although Police has not yet completed the process of inspection and the district attorney has also not officially opened a case against Elsabet, court sessions are being held and the district attorney is arguing to prove her guilt. This, according to the association, is also a breach of legal procedures.
The Association has also announced that Elsabet is currently without a lawyer because the lawyer provided by the regional government withdrew from the case for “personal reasons” after a plea for bail had been overruled by the court. All attempts of the association to provide Elsabet with a lawyer have failed because all the lawyers with a license to practice in the region have refused to take the case “in a way that is quite unclear.”
Since Elsabet’s initial arrest, protests have been heard from several prominent activists and politicians calling for her release. According to them, the arrest is politically motivated, and the disregard for legal procedures since the time of her arrest proves this.
Elsabet had become well-known for speaking out against the government structure implemented in the Harari region (known as 50-50-0) which reserves regional public offices for members of two ethnic groups, namely Harari and Oromo and denies members of other ethnic groups the right to hold public offices.
The last census shows that a considerable proportion of the population in the region is from Ethnic groups other than the two. For example, 22 percent of the population is made of the Amhara while the Harari comprise only 8 percent of the total population. Ethnic groups such as Guragie, Argoba, Tigrie and Argobba also have significant presence in the region. However, because of this 50-50-0 rule, more than a third of the population is alienated from the political scene in the region. Many, including Elsabet, have called the practice an instance of Apartheid. A similar practice is also implemented in the City Administration of Dire Dawa, where 80 percent of public offices are reserved for and shared equally between the Oromo and the Somali while leaving 20 per cent for members of other ethnic groups.
Many are convinced that Elsabet’s speeches and writings against these practices are what made her a target of the government. The accusation presented against her of “spreading false information about COVID_19 is, they say, a mere pretext. Allegedly, the false information is a Facebook post that claimed that an infected person has sat down with two high ranking officials of the region to chew Chat, a common practice in Harari.
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