February 18, 2009 / 4:54 PM / 9 years ago

Famous Ethiopian singer has jail term cut

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s most famous pop star, Teddy Afro, had his hit-and-run manslaughter jail sentence cut to two years from six by an appeal court Wednesday.

The singer, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun and who is known for belting out lyrics critical of the government, was convicted in December last year of killing an 18-year-old homeless man while driving in the capital Addis Ababa in 2007.

Afro has always denied he was in the car.

Appeal Judge Dagne Melaku maintained that Afro was guilty but said the victim had been drunk and was lying unconscious on the road when he was hit by the performer’s car. Melaku added that the police had failed to move the victim to a safer place.

The singer has been in prison for almost a year and could be free in less than 12 months, once time served and good behavior are taken into account.

Afro is hugely popular among young Ethiopians and sings mainly in the local Amharic language.

As with all of Afro’s previous court appearances, small groups of young fans gathered on the streets surrounding the courthouse Wednesday awaiting the appeal verdict.

Hundreds protested outside the court when his trial began in April — an unusual event in a country where dissent is rare.

The pop star’s songs have been used as protest anthems by opposition supporters who have taken to the streets and his fans believe his conviction was motivated by his music.

Afro’s last album, Yasteseryal (Redemption), coincided with Ethiopia’s 2005 election, which led to violent protests and the jailing of opposition leaders.

Opposition politicians in Ethiopia have accused the government of clamping down on dissent ahead of parliamentary elections due next year.

Reporting by Barry Malone; editing by David Clarke and Phakamisa Ndzamela

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