Victim’s family plans appeal
In a case that has highlighted violence against women and generated national outrage, Fisseha Tadese was sentenced to 14 years rigorous punishment by the Federal High court third criminal bench on December 30, for attempting to murder his former spouse, Ethiopian Airlines flight attendant Aberash Hailaye and for possessing a firearm illegally. Fisseha is also barred from voting for three years after his release.
Fisseha wore dark shade eyeglasses as he sat impassively looking fit in his dark shirt as he waited for around an hour in the strangely sparsely filled court room. When the verdict was read Fisseha was expressionless but the audience was stunned as it expected a much harsher sentence after the prosecution, in an earlier court session, had requested capital punishment or life imprisonment for what it called a cruel and sadistic crime.
On December 26, 2011 the court found Fisseha guilty of the aggravated attempted murder of Aberash Haileye and illegally possessing a firearm, which the court agreed he had used along with a sharp object to brutally attacking Aberash on September 14, 2011, leaving her blind and inflicting heavy injuries to other parts of her body.
The judge read into a poor quality audio microphone the long charge sheet detailing the gruesome details of the attack on Aberash and the testimony of witnesses.
The defense appeared confused at this point saying it wanted to present new evidence and that it did not think a verdict would be given on that day.
However, the court was unmoved by their argument and ordered them to begin mitigation testimony.
The prosecution asked for the death penalty citing article 117 of the criminal code of 2004 which it said could apply to heinous crimes. At the very least, the prosecution argued, the sentence should be life.
The defense argued that the criminal code did not allow for the death penalty for attempted murder. They said the defendant had no prior criminal record, was remorseful, and had made a successful attempt to save her life after trying to kill her.
Turning himself into police, his 10 dependants and his HIV/AIDS positive status were all additional arguments the court used to obtain a lighter sentence.
The court adjourned the case until December 30. After it did so, the defendant suddenly began speaking. He said he had written a grievance which had not been responded to. He said his health is deteriorating because of the HIV virus afflicting him and what he says is false information being transmitted through newspapers and magazines.
When the judge tried to respond he continued interrupting which caused a murmur in the courtroom. The judge said the media has a right to be in the courtroom and that he should consult his lawyers about his concerns.
On December 30th the court handed down the fourteen year sentence from its base of life sentence imprisonmnet saying he should be sentenced at the “eighth punishment level,” taking into consideration his lack of prior criminal record, his HIV/AIDS status, his regret, his decision to turn himself to the police and that he had not in fact killed her. Under the eighth punishment level it said Fisseha was liable to 12-15 years rigorous punishment. The court rejected the prosecution’s all but one aggravating arguments saying the fact that Fisseha attacked Aberash at night showed malice.
Asmalesh Woldeab, Aberash’s uncle clearly frustrated at what he saw as a lenient sentence, said the verdict would dash hopes that such kinds of atrocities against women would be stymied and women’s rights respected.
He also said Fisseha could be released from prison after serving only nine years of his sentence for maiming and blinding Aberash, giving a signal to Ethiopians that: “it’s better to be the accused rather than the victim.”
The family plans to appeal the verdict for what they say is the sake of Ethiopian women everywhere since they argue the current verdict gives carte blanche for crimes against women to be committed with impunity.
They have the right to appeal the case within 15 days of the court’s sentencing verdict.