A top Ministry of Justice official defects to the US
August 03, 2006
Alemayehu Zemedkun who refused Meles Zenawi’s order to institute a civil action against the imprisoned Kinijit leaders to ruin them financially left Ethiopia to America yesterday. A former friend and classmate of Shimeles kemal, the chief prosecutor against the kinijit leaders, Alemayehu was the head of the ministry’s civil division and one of the best bench prosecutors in the country.
Just after the November 1 massacre and the imprisonment of the CUDP leaders, journalist and social justice advocates, the State Minster of Justice, Dr. Hashim Mohammed, asked Alemayehu to help them bring criminal charges against the jailed men and women. Alemayehu objected to the request claiming that he was a head of civil division and bringing criminal charges wasn’t part of his job. Three weeks later, Dr, Hashim told Alemayehu to institute a civil action against the Kinijit leaders for the material damage and the loss of life caused on the November 1 and 2. The state minister of justice confided to Alemayehu that the prime minister had ordered him to obtain an injunction order against the asset of the leaders and prepare a civil case against them. The amount of damage was estimated to be a billion birr.
Alemayehu was adamant that he couldn’t do that because the material damage and loss of life was caused after the kinijit leaders were arrested and there was no relationship between cause and effect. Hashim warned him that he better do what he was asked to do. The minister latter served him with a term of reference summarizing what actions the prime minister wanted him to take. Convinced that it was better to join the jailed leaders in prison than collaborate in ruining them financially, Alemayehu and his inspired staff wrote back to the minister a letter explaining the reasons for the impossibility of instituting a civil case. On November 26, Alemayehu presented his resignation request to Dr. Hashim. Three days latter, the minister appointed an acting head for the division Alemayehu was in charge of without accepting the resignation request. The next day he was contacted by Shimeles kemal and was warned by his friend that if he would resign, dire consequences might result. Shimeles also told Alemayehu that they would themselves institute the civil action and, therefore, he shouldn’t bother about it. Alemayehu stayed on but he was under constant surveillance by security personnel.
Angry with what Alemayehu did, Meles Zenawi was said to have given a serious dressing down to the minister of justice, Ato Assfa Kesito, during a cabinet meeting. On July 7, the minister appointed Ato markeneh, former prosecutor at the Southern region, to replace Alemayehu and the later was ordered to hand over the materials he had received from the ministry. The talk of the organization had been that Alemayehu would fall pray to the vengeance of the EPRDF machinery. Alemayehu who had a two years American visa decided he had to leave the country, and leave fast. Yesterday was the right time. Keeping his profile low and helped by security personnel at Bole, Alemayehu managed to escape. It was one more brave and competent guy leaving the country. But he had to.
By refusing to accept Meles Zenawi’s order, Alemayehu may nott have totally saved the Kinijit leaders from the financial ruin the Prime Minister wanted to bring upon them. Many people in the ministry feel that it was only a matter of time before someone less brave would do what Alemayehu refused to do. Many members of Alemayehu’s staff who supported the decision of their boss and stood with him have already been cleared out of the civil division and replaced by others. Yet his decision is an example to civil servants who are being used as a tool of oppression by this government. I salute you, Alemayehu!