It has now been over 115 days since the arrest of Tamerat Negera. Tamerat is a political analyst, a journalist, and an editor in chief of the online Terara Media Network. Rights organizations like CPJ and the Ethiopian Human rights commission (EHRC) have raised concerns about his arrest and have called for his release. This short piece tries to cover his court trials from the day of his arrest, and what that signals to Ethiopia’s ‘reformed’ justice system.
Police took Tamerat from his home on December 10, 2021, at around 10.30 AM, saying he was needed for questioning. They also searched his home and office and confiscated electronics including computers, and other media equipment. Initially, the police did not inform his family of his whereabouts: not only were his wife and his mother denied from seeing him, but they were also not told where he was arrested for 7 days straight. Finally, on December 17, 2021, the family was informed he was detained in the district of Gelan Police station. He then appeared in court, and the Gelan district court of Oromia special zone surrounding Finfine gave police 14 days for investigations. However, on December 30, the court closed his case upon the request of police, and transferred his file to the then command post, which was in place at the time.
However, on February 17, two days after the parliament lifted the state of emergency, Tamerat was back in the same court. The same police that had closed the case 48 days ago decided to reopen the case and asked the court for another 14 days for investigation; the court allowed 7 days. Tamerat asked the court to be released on bail but was told he would have to make that request on his next appointment; his lawyer did not attend this abrupt cession.
After 10 days, the court was convened again on February 24, police cited a number of violations it alleged the defendant committed and requested another 14 days to complete its investigations. According to court documents seen by Addis Standard, these violations include “promoting the disintegration of Oromo unity”; “spreading information that advanced the benefit of TPLF during the year-long war”; and broadcasting “disinformation about the progress of the war” and “defaming the prime minister by saying, “He is intentionally working in a manner that defames and descends the country to a lower standard.” In addition, the police also told the court they were investigating his alleged communication with OLA and TPLF, alleged terrorist organizations.
On March 10, 2022, the Gelan district court, under Oromia special zone surrounding Finfine ordered the Oromia Regional State prosecutors of the regional Attorney General to formally begin charges in the coming 14 days. This came after the police told the court that it had finished its investigations. The police were also ordered to transfer Tamerat from Gelan prison to Daleti prison, also under Oromia special zone surrounding Finfine. Tamerat's lawyer Ato Gemechu Gulma told Terara Network that the court denied bail to his client because he was suspected of terrorism.
On the next day, March 12th, Tamerat's lawyer opened a new file to the Oromia Supreme Court to demand his client’s release on bail. The court viewed the file and postponed the case, pending a decision for March 18. However, on that given day, the court again failed to reach a verdict and postponed the file to March 23. For the third consecutive time, however, the court postponed the bailing decision, this time for March 25.
On March 25, the federal court said it needed to view the police investigation reports and scheduled a verdict for March 29. On March 29, the court notified the defense team that it has indeed received the police investigation report, but said it still needed time to investigate the report and postponed the bailing decision for April 5, making it the 6th time where this particular file has been postponed with no decision.
Tamerat’s trial shows a glimpse into Ethiopia’s ‘reformed’ judicial system; President of the Supreme Court Meaza Ashenafi vowed to restore public trust in the judiciary, a promise that has sadly failed short. Tamerat had been arrested for over 115 days and no charges have been made as of yet. Although he is a resident of the capital Addis, he is arrested and is being tried in Oromia Regional State, another violation of the law.
TameratNegera is a passionate advocate of an inclusive Ethiopianist ideology and a very vocal critic of ethnic politics. He is one of the very few vocal political analysts that are known to make a strong case against ethnic federalism. He is no stranger to controversy and like all public political figures, his political analysis has attracted supporters and critics. However, it is fair to say that Tamerat is the most influential political analyst in the Ethiopian media industry to passionately and critically advocate against the current ethnic federal arrangement and consistently warn against the dangers of ethnic politics in general. He is also known for his criticism of the incumbent, particularly leaders of the Oromia Regional State.
A lot can be said about Tamerat, his activism and analysis; and some of his opinions are admittedly controversial and even problematic. But his intention and goal have always been a strong Ethiopian state, a state that is no longer grappling with ethnic rivalry, where there is a system in place across that country that, as he described it, “sees and treats a farmer in Jimma, Oromia the same way it would treat a farmer in Gojam, Amhara.” This may seem ordinary for an outside observer, but not to Ethiopians, whose human value and safety are unfortunately tied to their ethnicity.
Tamerat Negera deserves justice; and for a longtime human rights advocate and civil servant like Meaza Ashenafi –who is now holding the highest office of the justice system, the increasingly shameful abuse by the system may serve as another reminder that the public trust in the judiciary is still far-fetched. Despite everything, many still want to believe in her promise of a fair and transparent judiciary.
Credit: Information on all court trials in this piece have been collected from Terara Network.