Addis Abeba — A court in the newly constituted Southwest Ethiopian People’s Regional State has jailed 20 defendants who are indicted accused of attempting to dismantle the constitutional order by force to lengthy prison terms ranging from 15 – 20 years, the regional state communication Bureau said.
The defendants under the file name of Zewde Bekele were charged for allegedly “plotting to overthrow a constitutional structure in various Kebeles of South Bench Woreda in 2020. The prosecutor’s office further said that the defendants had violated the “constitutional order by committing a series of murders, mutilations, displacements of civilians and property damages”; they were also charged with crimes of “looting of properties”, according to the bureau.
The sentencing was handed down by the Federal High Court rotating bench, which was presiding over the case involving the defendants and the prosecutor’s office. The 20 defendants were convicted after “failing to refute” the prosecutor’s evidence presented against them, the report said.
Accordingly, at a hearing held on 09 June in Mizan city, the court sentenced six defendants each to 20 years in prison. Nine defendants were sentenced to 18 years in prison each; four defendants were sentenced to 16 years and six months each; and one defendant was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The south Bench wereda and its environs was a scene of several bouts of recurring violence in 2020 and 2021 that claimed the lives of dozens of civilians as well as security forces. In a statement released last year, the zonal council said that a total of 151 civilians and 28 security forces were killed. Moreover, 29 security forces were rendered disabled in the attacks as stated by the council. About 21, 938 people were also displaced while more than 732 houses were destroyed particularly in Sheko, Guraferda and South Bench woredas, which were formerly under the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) regional state.
The Council warned at the time that “there is no guarantee that the issue won’t lead to ethnic violence if it is not resolved soon,” and demanded the intervention of federal forces. Relative calm has returned to the area, which has since held a referendum to become Ethiopia’s 11th regional state constituted out of Bench-Shako Zone, Kaffa Zone, Dawro Zone, Sheka Zone, West Omo Zone and Konta Special Woreda.