Terrorism defendants fear for their life in Kaliti prison

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Journalists and politicians facing terrorism charges told a federal court Monday that they fear for their lives inside Kaliti prison where they are kept. Following the incident where the leading defendant and opposition politician Andualem Arage was severely beaten, his attacker was moved among other defendants.
Eight defendants including the prominent dissident journalist Eskinder Nega appeared in court on Monday. Some of them say they are only sleeping in turns fearing they would be murdered during their sleep or their food would be poisoned.
Andualem, a suspect among 24 people that include party colleague Natenael Mekonnen, told the court that there has been an attempted murder against him.
“There was a murder attempt against me. As per the criminal procedure I would like to file a charge against the prison that denied me my right to get adequate medical help,” said Andualem, the leading defendant and vice chair of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), on Monday’s court appearance.
On February 15, Andualem was beaten severely inside his cell by an inmate called Ibas Asfaw, said UDJ in a statement issued last month alleging the incident as ‘a politically motivated attack to demoralize Andualem’ who has remained outspoken in court hearings.
Ibas, a convicted murderer, authorities confirmed as being involved in a “quarrel” with Andualem, is now placed in a cell where the other defendants are kept. They told the court Monday that he has been inciting violence against them.
“We are all scared; we can’t sleep and are only sleeping in turns as he could kill us or poison our food,” another defendant, Kinfemichael Debebe, told the court.
Prison administration authorities in a statement sent to local papers described the case as “ordinary incident” that involved a quarrel between Ibas and Andualem which didn’t result in “any injury”. The authorities said they are investigating the case and would take necessary disciplinary measures. They also denied assertions that any of the defendants’ life is at risk.
On Monday the court was scheduled to hear defense witnesses’ testimonies but the defendants’ lawyers complained that they haven’t received documents from the previous court ruling and therefore are unable to present defense.
“We are yet to receive the documents from the previous court ruling that permitted our clients to defend the charges against them. Though the court said it doesn’t accept our complaint, it granted us an extension it said is aimed at benefiting the defendants’ rights,” Deribew Temesgen, a lawyer representing Andualem and three defendants, told Capital outside the court’s hall on Monday.
The court was adjourned to March 26 to start hearing the defense case. It also ordered prison administration official to appear in court and respond to complaints lodged by the defendants.
Defendants’ relatives, local and foreign journalists and senior diplomats including the United States Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald E. Booth were present on Monday at Lideta Federal Court to observe the court’s procedures. The court changed its hall twice before it finally convened in a small room which left most of the journalists and defendants’ families outside.