Aklilu Solomon, attorney in the Kinijit trial, defects
EZ | 8 december 2006
Lawyers don’t usually fit the bill of a hero. Yet 2005 gave birth to a handful of heroes from this unlikeliest of professions; their star shining brightly. Birtukan Mideksa, the most famous of all, was jailed by the autocrat for broaching freedom and anti-totalitarianism. Her fate was shared by Anteneh Mulugeta,Yeneneh Mulat, Netsanet Demissie and Daniel Bekele, young lawyers with profound conviction for the same ideals.
On February 18, at 4.00 am, security forces climbed over the barbed-wired wall of Birhane Mogesse’s illustrious villa in the prosperous Atlas Hotel neighborhood, sneaked into his bedroom and pointed a gun at him while he was fast asleep. He was, we were told later, arrested for aiding and abetting the acts of terrorism. Since then this top-notch attorney in Addis had to bear the sight of the law books being shredded to pieces in the altars of the law: courts. A Swiss knife was presented in court as evidence to show Birhane’s culpability in the alleged act.
Alemayehu Zemedkun, Firehiwot samuel, Woldemichael Meshesha, Teshale Aberra….All are obvious contenders to a lawyer- hero status. Enter a new name. Remember, you read it first here. Aklilu Solomon will hit the news media soon.
Aklilu’s story offers inspiration. He came to the scene just after the 2005 election. With the results rigged and a state of emergency declared by executive fiat, Kinijit decided to test the independence of the country’s judiciary. Aklilu et al brought a case against Meles Zenawi claiming that he breached a law when he prohibited public gatherings in Addis Ababa. A jittery Woldemichael Meshesha, the judge then, figured out a way of dodging the issue. In his decision he asserted that the issue was constitutional and; therefore, a matter for the Constitutional Inquiry Commission to decide. The commission decided that Meles didn’t violate the constitution. Case closed…..But for not Aklilu.
An assiduous wooer of journalists, Aklilu explained the elementary errors of the decision to the public with remarkable thoughtfulness and insight. He later joined the election complaints investigation panel as a kinijit representative. Tireless and dedicated he is, the mockery of justice and law at that panel didn’t discourage him. “I have faith with human beings. We make the system. The few bad apples in the system would lose in the end. This can’t go on,” he told this blogger just before the November crack-down.
That crack-down changed Aklilu’s path of life completely. He became a member of the legal team defending political prisoners pro bono. When Birhane Mogesse, member of the team, was arrested, many lawyers feared the worst and left the scene. There was no stopping Aklilu though. He represented Kassahun Kebede, an official of the Ethiopian Teachers Association, who is on trial with kinijit leaders for treason and genocide. He faced constant intimidation and harassment by government agents and was told to quit. For the man with young family and a bright future, the easiest option must be to quit. Aklilu isn’t one to take easy ways out. Representing an innocent union leader in the most ludicrous political trial in the country’s history is in itself a torture. Going through real intimidation every day from the most brutal EPRDF agents is beyond an average person’s limits of tolerance. “I am trying to ride the storm because I still believe in human spirit. I sometimes think even the judges will get it difficult to handle this mockery. It is tough,” he wrote to me in one of our e-mail exchanges.
Even for him, the latest episode of EPRDF’s action was intolerable. Accused of being involved in distribution of the civil disobedience calendar which landed at least 49 people in jail, the target of intimidation included his young family. It was enough. He followed other brave lawyers to exile. Now in a European country, he asks himself question all Ethiopians in the democracy movement ask: how can a country with such a tremendous potential be ruined by the most incompetent and brutal leaders?