|Obsa's visa in his passport.|
When 15-year-old Obsa Paulos Gudina travelled to Ethiopia in January, he expected to spend time reconnecting with his family. Instead, he finds himself in an adult prison facing a long jail sentence for what his mother says was a tragic accident.
Invited by his older sister to stay at her home while he completed a three-month photography course, Obsa, an Australian citizen, was excited to see his birth country again and to spend time with his nephews and nieces. However, just as he was preparing to return to Australia, his holiday went horribly wrong.
On April 16, Obsa and a friend were getting ready for a birthday party while his nieces, nephews and the housekeeper watched television in the main bedroom. Obsa's mother, Tsehai Atomsa, told Fairfax Media through an interpreter that her son had entered the room to search for his phone charger and found a gun in the drawer of a bedside table.
''He just started handling it, playing with it. My son was pointing the gun at the wall … and then, by accident, the gun shot off and hit my granddaughter in the neck,'' Ms Atomsa said through tears at her western suburbs home. Despite being taken immediately to hospital, 13-year-old Fenet Dinku died 45 minutes later.
After Fenet's death, Obsa's family informed the Australian embassy in Addis Ababa that he had been arrested for homicide. Ms Atomsa said that John Newman, the Australian deputy head of mission and counsellor, visited her son every Tuesday.
''My son is getting support from him and food, because there's no good food there,'' she said.
|An anguished Tsehai Atomsa with a photo of her son, Obsa. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer|
Until recently, Ms Atomsa's only contact with Obsa was through Mr Newman's secretary. However, she can now speak to Obsa's lawyer in Ethiopia, Taffesse Gebremedhin.
She said she was very worried about her son as ''in Ethiopia, the legal system is different to here''.
''For example, the right to be represented and considered innocent until proven guilty is not like in Australia,'' she said. ''I appreciate the [Australian government's] help, and they are trying their best. This is not a criminal act, I believe, just an accident.''
Mr Gebremedhin agrees, saying Obsa had no motive to kill his 13-year-old niece.
''He came from Australia to pass the Christmas vacation period with family. He was living in his sister's house the whole time, and they ate dinner, lunch and sat at the same table every day. They were friendly and played together all the time,'' he said.
Mr Gebremedhin said he was sure the witnesses would not testify against Obsa.
''There are four witnesses - the children, the housekeeper and the father, even though he was not there at the time - but I am sure that not one of them will give the testimony that Obsa did it intentionally,'' he said.
''I strongly believe there is no negligence. An accident is an accident in any jurisdiction - it is not a criminal offence.''
Ms Atomsa said her family was deeply concerned about Obsa's wellbeing. ''He has suffered a severe depression and is regretting what happened. We are concerned about him committing suicide,'' she said tearfully.
But Mr Gebremedhin said Obsa's mental and physical health had improved since his mother visited Ethiopia earlier in the year.
''Previously he was in a very bad, overcrowded cell, and he was depressed. But now [since he has been moved to a different cell] his state of mind has improved.''
Obsa was granted a session with the prison counsellor on June 21 after consular officials lodged a request. They have also attended two hearings, on April 23 and May 17, but were denied access to a hearing on April 30.
Fenet's mother, Obsa's older sister, has not been in contact with Ms Atomsa throughout the ordeal. ''She's in Washington DC and we haven't heard from her - no contact by telephone or anything,'' Ms Atomsa said
She said the family had all ''forgiven each other'' and everyone was sure ''it wasn't deliberate, but a terrible accident''.
Obsa is being held in the federal prison in Kaliti after being charged with ordinary homicide, which carries a sentence of five to 20 years' imprisonment.
New Hope Foundation settlement co-ordinator Heidi Zwick said the organisation hoped to raise funds to help Ms Atomsa return for her son's court hearing on July 31.
''We hope to raise money for the flight initially, and then for legal fees,'' she said.
Ms Zwick said the legal fees would be about $10,000, and it would cost almost $2000 for Ms Atomsa - who lives in public housing and is on a disability support payment - to travel to Ethiopia. Other obstacles include her failing health, which is ''deteriorating and has been exacerbated'' by the ordeal.
This is not the first tragedy that Ms Atomsa has suffered. Migrating to Australia as a widow with four children in 2006, she had experienced torture, imprisonment and the loss of her husband and other children in Ethiopia.
In Australia she had to cope with being a single parent while navigating a foreign language and culture and struggling with the mental and physical anguish from torture.