Why the Prosperity Party must release all political prisoners
There are currently multiple political trials taking place in Ethiopia. The trial of Jawar Mohammed and 24 Other Oromo politicians, the trial of several OLF members and supporters, the trial of Eskinder Nega and his colleagues, and trial against several other activists and dissidents across the country are all political trials.
These trials are political because the individuals on trial are being dragged before the courts for their political views, not because they committed a criminal offense. They are on trial because they represented a vision of the future that the incumbent deems a threat their political fortunes or held views that the political order deems a threat for reasons that has nothing to do with the law.
In some cases, trials become political not because a crime has not been committed but because the primary motivation behind the prosecution is political, not legal. This is, for example, the case when a government chooses to prosecute some individuals while leaving others who are equally responsible for the same offense.
Since July last year, I have argued that the case against Jawar and 24 others and the other cases were political to the core, and that they are totally fabricated, and that they were intended to purge the political opposition from the political scene. Some of the allegations presented against the accused were so grotesque, so wild, so ludicrous, and so outlandish that they reveal the contempt with which they hold the public and the judicial institutions.
They were designed to fit into a particular narrative dominant at the time and aimed to shock a particular political constituency. Today’s hearing, as reported by the Oromo Political Prisoners Defence Team, made that self-evident.
Over the last decade, Ethiopia was literally a show trial industry where courts were the unofficial instruments with which the government disposes its political enemies. EPRDF used political trials as one of its primary instruments to eliminate its adversaries. TPLF officials, who run that farcical show, are now facing those same courts, those same judges and prosecutors that they asked or coerced to bend the law and instrumentalize it for violent ends. Karma is a boomerang! The same instrument they used against their political adversaries is now being turned against them.
Ethiopia is already in a labyrinth of some sort from which there seems to be no way out but this cycle must end at some point. One of those unconscionable things that needs ending now is the politicisation of the courts. The government must break this vengeful cycle of violence where those in power dispose their public foes in the name of law and order, where victors subject their vanquished foes to politicised prosecutions.
While using the courts for political goals might seem expedient in the short term, it is corrosive to public trust and undermines the authority of institutions and the law in the long term. It does a lot more damage to the country and the leaders. The Prosperity party must release all political prisoners, return country from the brink (still there is time), and work towards reconciliation, healing, and national consensus.