“Good luck!” called my driver as I got out in front of the Federal High Court. We had never discussed politics previously, but today he asked who I support. When I replied, he broke into a grin. “Today is a big day,” he said. “Tell them, good luck. We are with them. ”
I got out into the pouring rain and made my way through the mud to where family members and journalists were already gathered. The entrance process took far longer than usual today, and the guards were deliberately more rough in their searches.
It was difficult to find a place to sit and by the time the session began there was not a single seat remaining.
The prisoners entered soon after, looking well, and assumed their usual poise of courage, strength and defiance. The prosecutors followed, and then the judges. (Mohammed was absent and it appeared, for a moment, like the usual delay tactics). It was annouced that the prosecutor would give his closing statement and that the nine who had chosen to defend would have the opportunity to present their defense in three days time (as they requested a copy of the closing prosecuting statement in order to respond).
The prosecutor began—citing the charges that remained and the penalties assigned to them according to the Criminal Code: the 2nd and 3rd charges, we were told, carry 15 years imprisonment and 10-15 years, respectively. The 5th charge carries between 5-25 years imprisonment or, depending on the severity of the crime, life imprisonment or capital punishment; the 1st charge is also punishable by the latter.
He demanded that because none of the defendants had shown any remorse for the ‘crimes’ committed in 2005 , all must receive the maximum sentence—death.
For some reason, just hearing those expected words spoken out loud came as a shock. There was complete silence in the courtroom, except for the wife of one of the prisoners, who let out a strained laugh (and was immediately thrown out of the courtroom). The prosecution concluded that the agencies charged should also receive the maximum penalty of a Birr 500 000 fine and full closure.
Then we all filed out back into the rain.