On 5 December 2008 it was announced that the popular Ethiopian reggae singer and opposition political icon Teddy Afro has been sentenced to six years imprisonment and an 18,000 Br fine for his involvement in a hit-and-run incident in which an 18-year old homeless man was killed in November 2006.
The trial against reggae singer Teddy Afro has caused a sensation in Ethiopia, where some of his songs were seen as opposition anthems during the violent aftermath of the 2005 elections. One song accused the government of failing to live up to its promises of change.
Therefore, many Ethiopians believe the famous reggae artist is innocent and claim that Teddy Afro now is to be regarded a political prisoner.
As Teddy Afro left his previous court hearing in July 2008, he proclaimed his innocence to the world. He was quoted as saying: “I did not kill anyone! God is my witness. I did not kill anyone! God’s powers are above all powers. I appeal to the sense of justice of all those who are sworn to serve this country. Without just cause, I have been caged in a lice-infested jail.”
In his defense, Teddy Afro told the court he was out of the country at the time of the fatal hit-and-run accident. Tthe judge rejected this alibi, saying it was not credible in the face of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
Fear of the soldiers
A heavy police presence outside the court complex prevented any demonstrations after the sentence was pronounced, but groups of young people milled around as news of the prison sentence spread. Most looked the other way when a reporter approached.
When asked why there was no crowd at the court house, a university student told the reporter from Voice of America: “(It’s) because of fear of soldiers around us. Because of that.”
According to the Ethiopian penal code, a driver would be charged with homicide if he knocks down a person, leading to death, and drives 15 metres away from the scene of the accident. The penalty ranges from 5-15 years of imprisonment and a fine that peaks to 15,000 Br.
The other crime the court found Teddy Afro guilty of committing is punishable by an imprisonment of one month to two years and a 1,000 Br – 5,000 Br fine, according to the penal code. He was subsequently sentenced to one year imprisonment and a 5,000 Br fine for this charge.
Judge: “Minimum penalties”
Judge Leul Gebremariam, who presided over the trial, told the court that the defendant had been given the minimum sentences for the charges.
“The aim of penal code is more of corrective than punitive. That is why the court has sentenced the defendant to the minimum penalties,” judge Leul Gebremariam was quoted by Wudineh Zenebe as having said.
This, however, was not acceptable to Teddy Afro, who adamantly spoke out saying, again, that he had not committed any crime. As he was led out of the courtroom, he turned to a group of reporters and said, “I feel free.”
The singer’s attorneys are set to appeal the conviction. Attorney Million Assefa told Voice of America that the singer did not see himself as a political figure and did not intend his songs as to be a rallying cry for anti-government groups.
Photo from July 2008. Courtesy of Ethiopian Media Forum