Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), appeared before an Ethiopian court on Thursday and denied any terrorism allegations in connection with his November 30 arrest.
Merera told the court that he has spent his life opposed to violence and terrorism, and to teaching a better way, the Addis Standard reports. The hearing was held in a closed court that kept family, colleagues and diplomats out of the courtroom, as the Ethiopian government argued that Merera’s detention violated a provision of the country’s state of emergency measures.
That provision prohibits contact with terrorist organizations, which the Ethiopian government says Merera violated when he met with Ethiopian opposition leader Berhanu Nega in Brussels during a trip to meet with European Union officials.
Merera delivered a speech to members of the European Union Parliament and testified on the Ethiopian human rights crisis, along with Nega and high-profile Oromo Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilessa. A photo of them sitting together was widely circulated. He was arrested immediately upon his return to Addis Ababa, sparking an outcry from human rights organizations and activists.
“Despite his awareness of these provisions, Dr. Merera Gudina allegedly met and discussed with the leader of a group listed as terrorist in Brussels,” the Ethiopian embassy in Belgium said in a December 20 statement.
“Hence, the arrest of Dr Merera Gudina is not related with the meeting in the European Parliament but the alleged discussion with the leader of a terrorist group. If this meeting is confirmed by the investigation, this would have to be considered as a clear and deliberate violation of the state of emergency.”
During Thursday’s hearing, the court gave police another 28 days to continue that investigation, including Merera’s emails, electronic documents, banking data and other information. The next hearing is set for January 26, 2017.