Justice for Zewdu, Protection for Semhal

Justice for Zewdu, Protection for Semhal

Zewdu Haftu, a promising young woman of 32 years of age, was brutally attacked by unidentified assailants on a bustling street at 6 p.m. on August 19, 2023, in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. The attack, involving a vehicle without plates, led to her untimely and gruesome death. Zewdu, known for her kind heart and friendly disposition, was a beloved member of her community in Mekelle. Her sudden and shocking death has left her family and friends stunned, questioning how such a terrible act could happen to someone as genuine and well-liked as Zewdu.

Semhal Gebregziabiher, her friend who was walking with her at the time, witnessed Zewdu’s brutal murder. Semhal pleaded with people passing by to help find an ambulance to transport her friend to Ayder Hospital, ultimately succeeding. When the police came to Ayder Hospital, they took Semhal’s testimony and told her she would need to go to the police station to sign paperwork. Instead, the police arrested her immediately upon arrival. Not long after, Semhal had to be rushed to the hospital to get medical assistance for the physical and mental trauma she was experiencing because of the tragic incident. She was admitted to Ayder Hospital, where she received in-patient medical treatment while still in police custody for weeks. Semhal was diagnosed with physical illnesses and mental conditions resulting from the traumatic incident. Yet, on August 30, the police abruptly removed Semhal from the hospital and took her back to the police station without consulting the hospital or her doctors.      

Semhal, who had been in police custody for the past two weeks since the incident on August 19, finally made her first court appearance on September 1, 2023. Despite Semhal’s lawyer visiting her in jail and discussing the case with the investigative officers earlier that morning, she was abruptly taken to court without legal representation immediately after her lawyer left. Presenting their case in court, the police falsely claimed that Semhal was only brought to the station two days prior to her appearance in court, disregarding her previous multiple interrogations while she was in their custody and receiving medical care at Ayder Hospital. They insisted on the judge granting them a standard two-week interrogation period. With her lawyer absent from court, the judge granted the police an additional seven days for further investigations, and the court session was adjourned. 

In her second court appearance, on Friday, September 8, 2023, the judge granted the police the authority to detain Semhal for 17 days, surpassing the maximum allowable period of 14 days in a flagrant disregard for norms and court proceedings. 

Where is our moral and justice status?

The impact of these tragedies on our community cannot be understated. It raises concerns about our collective sense of morality and justice. 

First, it is truly disheartening to witness these perpetrators’ utter disregard for human life, as they callously subjected Zewdu to such a cruel and fatal act. It is absolutely appalling to realize that this heinous act occurred in broad daylight. Moreover, three weeks have passed without any word from our officials, highlighting a shocking lack of concern and speaking volumes about the state of our justice system and the urgent need for reform. The lack of accountability and the failure to address this tragedy in a timely manner only further erode our faith in the very institutions that are meant to protect us.

This deplorable incident serves as a stark reminder of the depths to which humanity can sink. The brazenness with which these men carried out their malicious acts is nothing short of horrifying. It is a chilling testament to the disregard for human life that exists, and it is a call to action for our society as a whole. In a world where justice should prevail, it is simply unacceptable that those responsible for such a heinous crime have not been swiftly brought to justice. 

Second, authorities holding Semhal in violation of her legal and human rights highlights a significant failure in our justice system. The judge granting the police the authority to detain Semhal for 17 days violates Article 59(1) of the criminal procedure code by exceeding the maximum allowable period of remand of 14 days. This means that Semhal will be unjustly held in police custody for over a month, from August 19th until September 26th, without authorities presenting credible evidence or legitimate grounds for her detainment. She was also denied her right to visitation and medical treatment.

It is essential to remember that every individual has the right to a fair trial and due process regardless of their situation. Denying someone these rights is not only unjust but also a violation of the principles of human rights and the rule of law. This begs the question: why is Semhal being held without the necessary legal procedures? Is it a case of abuse of power? The blatant disregard for Semhal’s rights and the deliberate attempt to deny her legal representation is also deeply concerning. The authorities must be held accountable for their actions, and justice must prevail.     

In recounting the events leading to and following the death of Zewdu, it becomes evident that this is not just an isolated incident or an individual tragedy. Rather, Zewdu and Semhal represent countless women in Tigray who face similar circumstances. Their story compels us to confront the uncomfortable truth about a multitude of harrowing injustices taking place in Tigray. 

Finally, the fact that these men dragged Zewdu behind their vehicle, which conspicuously did not have plates, demonstrates the current state of lawlessness in Tigray. There are reports of individuals bribing to drive without a car plate for status. This audacious act undermines the very foundation of the legal system, perpetuating a culture where those with money, connections, and power believe they are above the law. This flagrant violation serves as a stark reminder of the critical role a robust legal system plays in upholding societal order and safeguarding the well-being of its citizens. It is imperative that the authorities swiftly and decisively take action against individuals who exhibit such perilous behavior to deter others from contemplating engaging in similar acts of recklessness and lawlessness. 

In conclusion, we must demand answers, action, and justice for Zewdu and countless survivors of gender-based violence in Tigray and ensure there is due process for Semhal and consequences for any wrongdoing in her questioning and arrest. This matter cannot be swept under the rug or forgotten. It is a matter that demands our unwavering attention and a resolute commitment to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable for their despicable actions. Let us not allow this tragedy to fade into the background, overshadowed by the noise of everyday life. Let us stand together, united in our pursuit of justice, and let our voices be heard.

As deeply concerned community members, I strongly implore our broader community and authorities to persist in their efforts to investigate, locate, and apprehend the perpetrator or perpetrators. We must all demand justice for Zewdu’s untimely demise, urging authorities to efficiently conduct a thorough investigation into this heartbreaking incident. We must also urge any witnesses to step forward and provide crucial information, ensuring that justice is served. Her family and friends, mourning the loss of a young life robbed of its potential by heinous assailants, need justice for closure. However, justice can only be served if proper procedures are followed, chief among them being the right to due process; hence, I also demand for the protection of Semhal’s legal and human rights. We cannot rest until justice is served and until the memory of Zewdu is honored by a society that refuses to tolerate such callous acts of violence.

Omna Tigray External Contributor, September 2023