Prime Minister Meles Zenawi spoke out strongly against the Medrek coalition of opposition parties during his six-month report to the House of Peoples’ Representatives on February 8.
It was not an allegation as the legal experts put it. But it was a comprehensive authentication that they are members of the terrorist group. In his words: “In full 100 percent certainty some Medrek members are members of terrorist groups.” In his understanding that sufficiently describes the nature and function of the opposition political leaders who work for terrorists under the guise of a legal frame work.
Despite his 100 percent certainty that they are members of terrorist groups, the government didn’t put them behind bars simply because of lack of substantial evidence to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Fine; for the ordinary people when we say a group of people or politicians are terrorists with 100 percent certainty but we can’t take them to court because we lack evidence to submit for the court, it is indeed contradictory. For lawyers this was not an accusation but an executive order or political judgment which has no connection with the legal procedure. In the eyes of the law a person is called guilty after the court passes a verdict against him or her according to the strength of evidence. However, Prime Minister Meles gave a final and strange conclusion about some Medrek members when he said they were terrorists with full 100 percent certainty.
As it is seen here there are more questions than answers. Where is the proof for them to be 100 percent members of a terrorist group? How do we quantify that 100 percent with full certainty? And how do we come to conclude from this that we lack evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt before the court? Where is the valuable evidence that the court needs to follow due process of law?
This was not his first time to express these kinds of contradictory or convoluted statements. Days after journalists such as Wubishet Taye, Deputy Editor-In-Chief of the now defunct Amharic news paper Awramba Times, Rieyot Alemu, columnist at Fitih Newspaper and artist Debebe Eshetu were jailed he told Parliamentarians that there is 100 percent evidence that confirms them to be terrorists. “What I assure you now is we will submit our evidence to the court in two weeks,” he said. A man judged as a terrorist like artist Debebe Eshetu was released because Police told the court that he was innocent. The evidence that was supposed to confirm them as terrorists was aired on ETV after two months.
In any case the suspects were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and fine up to 35 thousand birr. The convicts still unconvinced by the courts decision appealed for a higher court.
However his report dawned grim at the parliament. The news brought the smell of catastrophe as a result of an approaching terrorism over the country. The perpetrators are some of Medrek members with full 100 percent certainty, in accordance to his statement.
This was opposite to what we are accustomed to living with. Ethiopia has a long history of justice system. In fact, long before this modern Criminal Code was written over 50 years ago Ethiopia had a written code called Fetha Negest. According to this written law, people were given justice in a very illustrious way.
Ethiopians also had a very strong sense of justice for years. Tradition has it that if crimes like stealing animals or murder took place in the society; the people were called to gather in market places to share the information and elders of the areas would assume or play the role of the modern jury in the process of gathering information. It was a sort of investigation. After the investigation the suspects were given the chance to defend themselves. In most cases they admitted to the crime partly because they were speaking under oath. Religion had a very strong place in the society at that time. So that lying was really a curse. So a judgment was given by the elders after going through all these processes.
Besides this there were ‘Road side Courts.’ When justice is violated there is a plea in the name of the law. If some one doesn’t stop when they are asked to in the name of the law, any passersbyforces them to stop. Traditionally the passersby intervened when the other person refused to stop violating the plea of justice After forcing them to stop, the passersby offers to listens to both parties pleading their case. If they, the claimant and defendant, agree to it the passersby takes a seat to see the case. This was called ‘Road side Courts.’ They pass a decision. If both agree, the decision would be materialized. If the defendant didn’t agree, the passersby would take the decision to the government body for enforcement. This shows that how justice or the rule of law is deeply knotted with the society.
For people who have grown up hearing these stories and for people who have modern education and in a country where the sense of justice has always been strong, it is little expected to hear such a bizarre judgment over “innocents until proven guilty”.
Anyone is innocent before the court of law until they were found guilty. But the Prime Minister judged that some Medrek members are members of a terrorist group. In my opinion the conclusive remark made by Meles sounds more politically motivated than legally.