By Abebe Gelaw
Where justice has lost its meaning, where prosecutors are blunt instruments of a tyrant, where courts are abattoirs of vendetta, where the rule of law means nothing but the rule of a tyrant, trials are too farcical and the judges are too comical to be taken seriously. The star comedians leading the farce, are so-called judges Leul Gebremariam, “Judge” Mohamed Amin, “Judge” Mohammed Umer, “Judge” Adil Ahmed, just to mention a few among many Kangaroo court comedians, who are too busy judging others, clumsily attired in black robes and holding sledgehammers to silence outrage against them and their demigod tyrant.
Unfortunately, their clumsy performance is just a badly scripted melodrama. But they have lost the plot as the public has been tired of their unfunny courtroom comedy. The case of Teddy Afro is not any different from a long litany of unjust courtroom comedies which wrapped up in the usual fashion, sending the victims of injustice to harsh, dirty and crammed jails intently infested with lice, fleas and bedbugs. Falsely accused of incitement against tyranny, I had seen it and tested its harshness. I was just a student protesting against injustice at the Addis Ababa University when Zenawi and Genet Zewdie suddenly decided to illegally fire 42 renowned professors for criticizing the tyrant’s inhuman segregationist and secessionist ethnic policies.
Vengeance for losing elections
The list of the courtroom farce is too long. In the aftermath of his humiliating defeat in the May 2005 elections, the tyrant sent out his ruthless troops, infamously known as Agazi brigade, to shoot, maim and crush kids, the elderly, woman and young men. Their blood still cries out from the grave, but none of the brutal killers and those who detained and tortured over fifty thousand innocent citizens in harsh concentration camps faced justice. On the contrary, the victims and leaders of the ill-fated Kinijit, journalists, VOA broadcasters, civic leaders, ordinary citizens, dissidents in exile were charged with genocide, high treason and outrage against the constitution, which never exists in reality.
There were simple questions that the clown judges failed to raise before the start of the road show. The charges were outrageously laughable. There was no shred evidence of high treason and genocide against Tigrians. It was rather concocted to cause further division and animosity among the suffering children of a poor nation who have zillions of reasons to unite than to divide. But in fact there was an old Tigrian man who was dragged to court by prosecutors to substantiate allegations of the genocide. He was too confused and lost in the dazzling Kangaroo court. He said he was sure genocide was committed as some kids threw rocks on the roof of his house just because he was Tigrian. He was asked to show the perpetrators of this outrageous genocide. He was able to identify none…but finally he found it too much and admitted that the prosecutors had trained him to lie and give such a ludicrous testimony. Suddenly the chief prosecutor, Shimelis Kemal, sprung up from his sit and declared that his key witness was mentally unfit to give testimonies and recite his eye-witness account. Isn’t that outrageously funny?
Judge Adil Ahmed had to give the whole courtroom comedy, which was by then entertaining the whole world, a semblance of justice. After making a long mockery of justice, Adil “dropped” the charges of genocide against 111 people, including some exiled dissidents who could not have exterminated ethnic Tigrians, some of whom were Tigrians themselves, from Europe and America without any long range missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Under mounting pressure from the US government, the charges of genocide and high treason against the five VOA journalists and some exiled dissidents had also been dropped by stand-up comedian judge Adil Ahmed without any convincing explanations.
The high court drama went on and on for nearly two years and at the climax it was time for conviction and sentencing. All of the leaders of Kinijit were found guilty of the concocted crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment and 30 of them were stripped off their right to vote and run for public offices. While Adil’s drama was in full swing, the street smart tyrant was circumventing the courtroom drama by hand wriggling the victims under the guise of “Shimagles”, elderly ‘peacemakers’ led by Prof. Ephrem Yishak, to sign a document that was actually set to release them from jails under a pardon deal. Even that high drama was so unfunny that the move was contradictory to the letters of the “law” and did not even follow the “legal procedures” to be called a pardon or an amnesty
The expensive courtroom drama lost its meaning when Zenawi announced that he found a stroke of humanity in his evil heart and decided to extend mercy to his victims. Despite all the travesties and dramas, even Zenawi knew full well that he and his cohorts were actually the ones who should have faced justice for all the outrageous crimes they have been committing with arrogance and impunity for so long.
Trials and tribulations of a dissident singer
The next high profile courtroom drama in line was the trial and tribulation of Tewodros Kassahun, aka Teddy Afro, who had offended the ruling ethnic junta by calling for change and unity that can ruin Zenawi’s divide and rule agenda. He was too bold to question our trigger happy ruler, whom he referred to in Yasteseryal as a new king but no change. That was actually enough to charge the singer with genocide, high treason and outrage against the non-existent constitution.
The allegation made against Teddy was killing a homeless man in a car accident in November 2006. Again the trial lost credence too soon and was reduced to a mediocre road show with too many memorable dramas, pathetic and unfunny stand-up comedies that have cast doubt on the whole judicial system and fairness of the trial. Like any citizens, Teddy Afro should account to his actions regardless of his superstar status. Nonetheless, immunity from prosecution has never been an issue as the ruling elites and their blind supporters try to assert every now and then.
There are uncomplicated questions that should have been addressed properly to give the whole farce a semblance of legal proceeding. Teddy was arrested in early November 2006 in connection with the alleged crime, but was released on bail after a few days in jail. Nothing happened between his initial arrest and his indictment on April 16, 2008. Between the huge time gap, Teddy was allowed in and out of the country carrying a legal passport and even performed in European and American cities. It seems they wanted him to go in exile. He even rejected offers to entertain the ruling elite during the extravagant millennium party.
Despite the fact that he had enough opportunities to remain abroad, he maintained his faith that the truth would set him free. To his dismay, that never rarely happens in Ethiopia and the trial has been tainted with irregularities and abuse of power from the very start to the very end. Supporters of Teddy who congregated at the court to show their solidarity with the singer were detained and beaten, his lawyer was arrested and subsequently convicted of contempt of court, as if there is one; journalists who published stories related to the drama as well as those who misspelt a judge’s name were thrown in jails.
The presumption of guilt
All the farcical dramas happened during the course of the trial and tribulations of Teddy Afro. On April 21, 2008, Teddy’s supporters came out in full force around the court and demanded a fair trial. The Federal Police surrounded the peaceful protesters and arrested a number of people including two journalists. Negadras, a weekly newspaper, reported that twenty fans of Teddy Afro appeared before the Addis Ababa City First Instance Court on April 30, 2008 and were charged with distributing leaflets, chanting slogans and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the singer’s image, among other trivia. Within a few weeks, Teddy Afro was guilty before he was even convicted. He was denied bail rights and was sent to the notorious Kaliti prison. He was also put in solitary confinement. Many of his popular songs were banned on radios and TVs. Magazines and newspapers were censored and impounded making the case more of a political drama than a judicial matter. In early May 2008, 10000 copies of Enku, a monthly entertainment magazine was impounded and its publisher and deputy editor, Alemayehu Mahtemework, and three support staff who had no connection with the content of the magazine were detained.
Another interesting twist in the high profile drama emerged amidst all the dramas. Teddy’s defence attorney, Million Assefa, and Mesfin Negash, editor-in-chief of Addis Neger were sensationally arrested in early August over an interview the attorney gave to the newspaper. Even if it was just a case of a boomerang coming back to knock the attorney, as he has been helping to draft bad laws and the genocide charges against leaders of Kinijit, it was still comically outrageous. “Judge” Leol Gebremariam accused Million of contempt of “court” for stating in the newspaper that he was intending to lodge a complaint against the comedian judge with the so-called Judicial Administration Council, quite a misnomer where there is no justice to administer!
“The arrest of our colleague Mesfin Negash is an example of how authorities will find justification to detain journalists who cover sensitive issues, and criminalize independent reporting,” Tom Rhodes, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator protested. Even if Million was released, along with the journalist, after serving a few days in jail with a conviction record in their pockets, the attorney had every right, if at all there is any semblance of a judicial system, to make a complaint as well as publicizing his misgivings. Even more, the journalist had no case to answer as he did his job properly. It was clearly a case of a comical judge behaving badly.
That was not all. Another comical miscarriage of justice occurred. Tsion Girma, editor-in-chief of the private weekly Embilta, was arrested and subsequently “convicted” on a criminal charge for mistakenly identifying one of the comical judges involved in Teddy’s case. Her paper misidentified Muhamed Umer as Muhamed Amin. She has now been locked up in Kaliti jail for making a mistake in writing. This may be the first of its kind in the history of injustice and media repressions. It made the mistrial of Teddy not only a political issue that nobody would be allowed to talk about in any shape or form, but also as one of the most absurd and ludicrous stand up comedies ever performed in a court. That is justice; TPLF style!
Mistrials and pardons
After a series of miserably failed stand-up comedies at Zenawi’s Kangaroo high court, Teddy was declared guilty. The trial was tainted and the judges were too tyrannical and too comical to be taken seriously. Teddy Afro stood up and boldly declared that he had been denied justice and had lost faith in the court infuriating and aggrieving the comical judges. His defiance reduced the Kangaroo judges, who are too proud to sit on the high chairs of injustice, to ashes.
On the 5th December, 2008, comical Leul came back through the backdoor with his unfunny jokes holding his sledgehammer of injustice. “Six years in jail!” he declared. But that hasn’t impressed anyone at a miserably failed court of injustice where stand-up comedians are making a mockery of justice. During the sentencing, Leul gave a lecture looking down at Teddy with red eyes that the courts are not there to please him but to deliver justice. “This is a place for justice,” he said and admonished the singer for expressing his lose of faith in the court. “Can I speak?” asked Teddy politely. “No!” shouted back Leul and threatened that anyone who might dare to raise a voice would be charged with contempt of court. Teddy was then dragged back to jail condemned to spend six years of his life in jail.
According to reports, Zenawi “Shimagles” have been busy pressing Teddy to admit guilt and receive the charitable mercy of his the tyrant. That would make the tyrant the fountain of mercy who can release any “convicted criminals” at his whim. But the fact of the matter is that Teddy Afro, like the so many victims before him, has been denied a fair trial in a highly politically charged circus where clowns masquerading as judges have been committing gross injustice against him and all those who have been jailed and abused as a result of is his trials and tribulations. After all these trials and tribulations, Teddy Afro must be freed unconditionally as he has been punished more than enough. How come a criminal tyrant whose misdeeds have been written all over his forehead grants pardon to those facing mistrials and miscarriages of justice?
All the travesties of justice are clear testimonies to the fact that it is high time for change; a radical and drastic change is overdue that should dismantle and replace the rotten system which Zenawi and his cohorts have been sustaining with their corruption, guns and crimes against humanity.
Let the curtains close and the clumsy stand-up comedians and clowns in Zenawi’s Kangaroo courts of injustice, who collect their salary from the blood tears of people they traumatize, be sent to where they belong, convicted for committing crimes against justice. The road show isn’t funny but boring to death in a country where our celebrity’s popular songs are banned from the airwaves! For six years a great popular voice is to be silenced locked up in Kality to be a toy for rats and lunch for fleas, lice and bedbugs. That must be a bad practical joke gone awry.
It is time to banish stand-up comedians and clowns from courts and reclaim justice as the outrageous comics are gambling on the lives of poor, defenceless and voiceless citizens. The owner of the Kangaroo court clowns and comedians should at least make an effort to improve the poor quality of the outrageous dramas and road shows.
Teddy Afro’s message still echoes from jail. It is simply a call for unity and love. That must put to shame those who have been unable to unite for the holy cause of liberating the suffering people of Ethiopia from a tyrannical regime that has made life unbearable day by day.
(Former editor of Addisvoice.com Abebe Gelaw, is a Knight Fellow and Yahoo International Fellow at Stanford University, California. He can be reached at [email protected].)