Ethiopia sets November hearing date as Merera pleads not guilty
Federal prosecutors in Ethiopia have set a November 3 hearing date in the case of Merera Gudina, the head of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) who has remained in custody since a November 2016 arrest.
Merera, a 61-year-old scholar and lifelong human rights activist, entered long-delayed not guilty pleas on all charges during a court appearance Monday. Among other things, the process was on hold while awaiting a court decision on whether or not the identities of prosecution witnesses can be shielded during the trial. Ethiopian prosecutors denied Merera’s request to see a full list of those witnesses, and the ruling upheld their right to do so while still having those witnesses enter testimony.
The defense also was denied the request to hold Merera’s trial separately from those of Berhanu Nega and Jawar Mohammed in absentia, along with their affiliated diasporan media outlets.
Merera was arrested and taken into custody upon his return last year from Brussels, where he testified before the European Parliament about the human rights situation in Ethiopia. A widely circulated photo showed Merera at meetings in Belgium with Oromo Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilesa and exiled Ginbot 7 opposition leader Berhanu, which led in part to charges that Merera had violated an Ethiopian state of emergency provision banning any meeting with a terrorist organization.
The charges also include “creating pressure against the government,” “threatening society through the means of violence” and attempting to “disrupt constitutional order.”
The latest developments in the Merera case come amid fresh protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, which has remained volatile since 2015. The tensions were sparked by land annexation plans in Addis Ababa, but reflect the deeper and decades-long resentments over the ruling minority’s treatment of the Oromo.