On Zewdu Haftu and Semhal Gebrezgher

Zewdu Haftu and Semhal Gebrezgher began their friendship as teenagers at Bahirdar University. Their friendship continued as they moved back to their hometowns to serve the communities that raised them, now as professionals. Zewdu returned to Mekelle and started working as an accountant while Semhal would go on to work as a public prosecutor in the rural areas of Tigray.  As the genocidal war made living in Tigray near impossible, Zewdu fled to Addis Ababa and Semhal to Turkey. They quickly returned to Tigray in the aftermath of the Pretoria agreement. 


On the 19th of August, Zewdu was brutally murdered on a busy street in Mekelle with a plethora of witnesses as she was walking to a birthday party with Semhal. Zewdu Haftu’s murder has rightfully garnered public attention and demands for justice. Calls for action have been energized by equally harrowing stories of the inhumane killing of a three-year-old child in Shire, multiple accounts of rape, and, by the Tigray Interim Regional Administration president’s own admission, rampant kidnapping and extortion. These events have entrenched perceptions of the absence of the rule of law in Tigray. The manner in which the investigation into Zewdu Haftu’s death is being conducted has failed to alleviate these perceptions.


The investigation has been particularly egregious in relation to the arrest of Semhal Gebrezgher. Semhal was placed under police custody immediately following Zewdu’s murder and initially permitted to remain at Ayder referral hospital where she was receiving treatment for psychological and physical ailments related to the incident. She remained in the hospital under custody for eleven days (during which time she was repeatedly questioned) without appearing in front of a court of law in violation of her right to do so within 48 hours. On the 30th of August, police removed Semhal from the hospital despite not being discharged by her doctors. 


Under intense public scrutiny, she was finally presented to a court on the 1st of September without the presence of her legal representation who had been misinformed about  the time of the hearing by the investigators. The court too was misinformed about the date of her arrest and the duration she had been under investigation. The court denied investigators’ request to keep her under custody for an additional fourteen days granting seven instead. However, at a hearing (this time in the presence of her legal representation) on the 8th of September, the court granted the police a further eighteen day remand to investigate her. This is a fundamental error of law and a clear violation of her right to be free from arbitrary arrest and detention, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Ethiopian Constitution. The court’s decision also clearly violates Article 59(1) of the Ethiopian criminal procedure code (ECPC) which explicitly states that “No remand shall be granted for more than fourteen days on each occasion”. Her continued detention is a flagrant injustice that must be brought to an end.


In a further violation of her rights, Semhal has been denied medical treatment since being forcibly discharged from hospital on August the 30th despite still needing medical attention and exhibiting physical pain as well as mental trauma. Although police initially permitted a doctor’s appointment on September 7th they asked it be postponed as they were understaffed due to the violently suppressed protests also carried out that day. Her appointment was rescheduled in line with the police’s request to the afternoon of the 8th following her court appearance that morning. This too was postponed first,  to the 11th, and then to the 14th of September, ostensibly due to lack of transportation. During her time in prison, there have been intermittent denials of her right to visitation. 


Given the investigation’s continued violation of fundamental witness, suspect, and detainee rights, public scrutiny and pressure for justice and due process of law will rightly continue. The Regional Justice Office, which issued a commendable statement against the excessive use of force by police against peaceful demonstrators recently,  should also respect the public’s right to information and provide reasonable legal justifications for the delay in delivering justice for Zewdu Haftu as well as the unlawful detention and harassment of Semhal Gebrezgher. 


  1. I demand Justices for Zewdu Hafu which is killed brutally infont of the public by bringing those killers to justice no one should be above the law and released immediately Semhal Gebreziher from prezon, and allow her a medical treatments as she is suffering of a mental trauma of the killing of her best friend Zewdu Hatom which she was beside her.

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