By Bernabas Shiferaw
May 8, 2020
Elsabet Kebede, who had been imprisoned illegally about a month ago, has been released on bail. The circumstances of her arrest and the breaches of legal procedures in the subsequent proceedings had attracted the attention of many.
Many activists, politicians, and organizations such as Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA) had objected to the government’s illegal actions against Elsabet and the motive behind them, and called for her immediate release. Many agree that the motive behind her arrest is political, triggered by her speeches and writings criticizing the political system in Harari, and that the actual case presented against her of “spreading false information regarding COVID-19” is just a pretext.
EWLA had announced that it is following the case closely and objected to the breaches of legal procedure involved in the case. The EHRC had, in its press release on the occasion of ‘Africa Pre-Trial Detention Day’, celebrated on April 25, mentioned Elsabet’s case, and denounced the court’s denial of her release on bail to which she is legally entitled.
Just as in the case of her arrest, the authorities also failed to comply with the law in the case of her release. In a court session held on the 20th of April, the Harari police had asked for a 14 days’ extension to conclude its inspection, and the court had allowed it. The case was to be reviewed again on May 4, 2020. And there was another court appointment to review her plea for bail on May 7, 2020. But the court reviewed, at the prosecutor’s request, the case on May 1, four days before the appointment, in the absence of Elsabet and issued an order for her release on bail.
According to EWLA, although the order for her release is proper and should have been issued much earlier, the manner in which it was issued at last was illegal. Elsabet, objecting this breach of legal procedure, decided to remain in prison. She was taken to court on the original day of appointment (May 4). In the session, the prosecutor asked for more time to prepare the case against Elsabet. The court granted two days’ time for the prosecutor to prepare the case and for Elsabet to present her evidence, if she has any.
The next day, Elsabet was taken back to Addis Ababa and released on bail and her case was also moved here, where, according to the Association, it should have been opened in the first place. The association thanked Addis Ababa Police and the attorney general for listening to the Association’s entreaties and taking this corrective measure.
The association also expressed its hope that legal procedures will be followed in the process herein after.
Regarding the continuance of the case in Addis Ababa, Elsabet has said, in an interview after her release, that she doesn’t know how it might proceed because, in the first place, no formal case has been opened against her and, in the second place, her accusers have not appeared before court so far. The alleged accusers are four prominent government officials, including the president of Harari regional state, and an investor operating in the region.
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