March 20, 2015 / 5:33 PM / 2 years ago

Ethiopian pilot who hijacked plane sentenced to 20 years in jail

2 Min Read

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court sentenced an Ethiopian Airlines pilot to 19 years and six months in prison on Friday for hijacking his own plane and flying it to Geneva, more than a year after he surrendered to Swiss police and sought asylum.

The high court in Addis Ababa issued its ruling on Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn in his absence. He had been convicted in absentia on Monday.

"The court sentenced him to 19 years and six months in jail for the crime he committed," Shimeles Kemal, the government's spokesman, told Reuters.

Shimeles said an extradition request had been rejected by Switzerland and that Swiss authorities had said Hailemedhin would face charges there. There were no details on his current whereabouts.

The 32-year-old was second-in-command on the Feb. 17, 2014 flight to Rome. According to Swiss police, he took control of the aircraft when the main pilot, an Italian, left the cockpit for a toilet break, then sent a coded signal announcing he had hijacked his own plane.

With the Boeing jet on the tarmac, an unarmed Hailemedhin scrambled down an emergency rope and surrendered to police without harming the 193 passengers, mostly Europeans, on board.

Swiss officials have said Hailemedhin asked for asylum, saying he did not feel safe in Ethiopia.

Opposition politicians and rights campaigners in the Horn of Africa nation often accuse the government of stifling dissent, a charge it rejects.

Thousands of people from north and east Africa travel to Europe each year to flee poverty and conflicts, although Hailemedhin left behind a relatively well-paid job at the flagship airline of one of Africa's fastest-growing economies.

Ethiopian officials have noted that, as a pilot, Hailemedhin had a visa allowing him to travel freely to Europe.

Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Catherine Evans

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