The popular Ethiopian singer and opposition political icon known as Teddy Afro has been sentenced to six years in prison for the hit-and-run death of a homeless man. The singer's attorneys are set to appeal the conviction.
The pop star, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun, seemed relaxed as Judge Leul Gebremariam admonished him for showing what the judge called 'callous disregard' for human life in fleeing the scene of a late night accident in which the victim might have been saved.
After the judge ordered him to serve a six-year prison term and pay a fine of roughly $18,000, the singer turned to the packed courtroom of friends and fans, smiled and pointed upward, in what friends said was a symbol of his trust in God.
As he was led out of the courtroom, he turned to a group of reporters and said, "I feel free."
The Teddy Afro trial 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.
Young fans stood in front of the court complex when his trial opened last April, chanting for his freedom and complaining that his arrest was politically motivated. But one of his attorneys, Million Assefa, told VOA 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.
In his defense, Tewodros had told the court he was out of the country at the time of the fatal accident, but the judge rejected the alibi, saying it was not credible in the face of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
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.
Twenty-one-year-old Nebiyou, a university student who declined to give his surname, was one of the few who would speak. "It's bad, really, because we love him. He's innocent." When asked why there was no crowd at the court house, Nebiyou said "(It's) because of fear of soldiers around us. Because of that."
As soon as he finished speaking, Nebiyou ran away.
Teddy Afro's attorney Million Assefa declined to speak to reporters about the case or the sentence. He told VOA he would file an appeal sometime next week, and said he was hopeful the case would be overturned on appeal.