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Ethiopian airlines


Plane hijacker sentenced to psychiatric care


The Federal Criminal Court has sentenced an Ethiopian pilot who hijacked an aeroplane in Geneva to mandatory supervised psychiatric treatment. He had previously been deemed mentally unsound during the incident.

During Monday’s sentencing, the judge deemed the defendant’s risk of relapse to be high and so sentenced him to undergo therapy while under guard in canton Geneva. The pilot is already receiving treatment for paranoid schizophrenia and was not present at the sentencing hearing.

The defence team had asked that the pilot be set free because he had not endangered the lives of any passengers aboard the aeroplane and the other pilot was able to safely land in Geneva. Lawyers for the 40-year-old Ethiopian reiterated that he had been seeking asylum in Switzerland.

As soon as he is financially solvent, the defendant will have to pay fees for the trial totaling CHF3,000 ($3,092) as well as the costs for his defence team. His pilot’s license has been revoked.

Plea for asylum

In February 2014, the flight from Addis Ababa to Rome was hijacked by the co-pilot while the pilot was in the toilet. While over Sudan a distress message was sent out. Once the plane was in European airspace, two Italian fighter jets, and then French jets accompanied the aircraft. The incident highlighted that Switzerland does not have round-the-clock fighter jet intervention capability.

The plane, with 202 people on board, was rerouted to Geneva. It took a while to land as the co-pilot was trying to negotiate a claim for political asylum. No guarantees were made and the plane was eventually forced to land due to a lack of fuel. It touched down safely and no one on board was injured.

Upon landing, the co-pilot climbed out of the cockpit window and handed himself in to authorities.

Psychiatric diagnosis

It was initially thought that the Ethiopian man would be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Switzerland. However, the Attorney General’s office later judged that the man was not capable of making competent decisions at the time and was experiencing paranoia. He was detained in a closed psychiatric ward, while awaiting a ruling on the therapeutic measures to be prescribed to him.

In March, an Ethiopian court sentenced him to 19 years and six months in prison for hijacking. The Swiss authorities decided not to extradite him to Ethiopia in order to try him in Switzerland.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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