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Asylum plea Ethiopian sentence for Geneva plane hijacker

All passengers and crew on board were in good health when the plane landed in February 2014

(Keystone)

An Ethiopian Airlines pilot who changed course while flying a passenger plane to land in Geneva and request asylum has been sentenced in absentia in his home country. Despite Switzerland refusing extradition, a court decided on a sentence of 19 years and six months.

The man was found guilty of aircraft hijacking by an Ethiopian court on Friday.

Switzerland had informed the Ethiopian government in May 2014 that a case had already been opened against the man, and that he would be tried in the Swiss justice system on criminal charges.

He took full control of the airplane in February 2014, while his pilot colleague was in the toilet. He diverted the flight, which was originally on route from Addis Ababa to Rome, and landed in Switzerland.  

200 passengers and crew were on board at the time. The man alerted authorities personally about the change of course and his intention to claim political asylum. He gave himself up upon landing and was arrested.

Ethiopia has a poor record on human rights according to numerous organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, which states that authorities in the country “severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.

The incident also exposed an embarrassing hole in Switzerland’s security measures. Fighter jets couldn’t be scrambled to the unexpected entry into Swiss air space as Swiss fighter jets only operate during standard office hours, not early in the morning or at night. Instead, two Italian jets were called on to accompany the plane.

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