On 19 December 2017, Dr Tadesse Biru Kersmo, one of the leaders of PG7, an Ethiopian political opposition group, was acquitted of terrorist charges relating to his involvement with this organisation. This trial did not take place in Addis Ababa, but in East London at Snaresbrook Crown Court. Mr Kersmo was accused of travelling with publications useful to a terrorist. He successfully argued that those publications in his possession merely assisted him with devising the group’s strategy of civil disobedience and self defence when confronted with an armed and aggressive government whose use of torture and arms to quell peaceful protest was common place. When shown the extent of the human rights abuses by the then Government, the jury believed him and duly acquitted.
Dr Tadesse Biru Kersmo firmly believes that this acquittal contributed to a sequence of events that resulted in:
- The resignation of the Ethiopian Prime Minister;
- A new progressive prime minster whose cabinet consists of 50 % women
- The release of Andargachew Tsege, the leader of PG7, from Death Row and his return to the UK to rejoin his family;
- PG7’s headquarters opening in Addis Ababa where they were previously banned as a proscribed organisation, with the leaders, Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsege, having a political base in Addis Ababa;
- The imprisonment of a number of ex government officials for their human rights abuses;
- The release from prison of thousands of political prisoners;
- The closure of notorious Addis Ababa prison and “jail Ogadon”.
- An easing of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia;
Work is still to be done in Ethiopia but these are positive changes working towards a fairer society.
Many states with poor human rights records often use politically motivated prosecutions to restrict political opposition and suppress democracy. But acquittals can also result in positive political change. If Dr Tadesse Biru Kersmo is correct in attributing the sequence of events in Ethiopia since 19 December 2017 to his acquittal, his case had more significance than we ever could have imagined when preparing his defence.
Dr Tadesse Biru Kersmo was represented by Kate Goold, partner and Keshina Bouri, trainee solicitor.
Kate defends in all variety of criminal cases and in extradition proceedings.