At a hearing held at the Federal High Court, Lideta Branch, the defense team defending Eskinder Nega, the member of the opposition Balderas for Real Democracy, and four others facing terrorism charges against Eskinder, objected to the prosecutor’s appeal for a closed session and a court witness hearing against the defendants.
In that hearing, the federal prosecutors submitted a written reply to the earlier objection lodged by the defense attorney and submitted a motion for witnesses to testify at a closed hearing and behind a “security” curtain. Prosecutors argued that witnesses were people known to the defendants and their associates. “If they give an open testimony, they could be in risk. The witnesses are fearful of their protection due to the weight of the prosecution. Previously, pre-trial witnesses were harassed, including death threats, “said the federal prosecutors.
The prosecutors added that they had 20 witnesses lined up and wanted 16 of them to testify in a closed court and the other four to testify behind a curtain. They also insisted that, since the essence of the crimes alleged to have been committed by the defendants included the incitement to religious and ethnic violence, it posed a danger to national security.
However, the first defendant Eskinder Nega pleaded against the prosecutors’ notion in a seven-page plea to the court. “Even with the defendants in the case of ‘Red Terror,’ witnesses were not forced to testify behind a curtain; when those defendants were released after their jail sentences had been served, they were happily reunited with the community, including those who testified against them. This shows that there is no history of retaliation against witnesses in Ethiopia, “Eskinder said.
He also cited examples of court cases involving genocide in Germany and Rwanda where witnesses testify in public trials. Eskinder further argued that placing witnesses behind a curtain is a Latin American trend in which witnesses testify against drug trafficking defendants for their protection, and that such practice is not acceptable and is not done in the Ethiopian context.