The Federal High Court on Wednesday found Andualem Arage and 23 others, charged with crimes of terrorism, high treason and espionage, guilty as charged.
Following the conviction federal prosecutors had asked the court to pass the “maximum prison terms” disregarding the death penalty as “the act of terror was only an attempt and not a completed act”.
Rejecting all of the defense’s argument, Judge Endeshaw Adane delivered the guilty verdict in a reading that stretched for two hours and a half.
Andualem, public relations head of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), Natnael Mekonnen, member of UDJ, and the six defendants including Eskinder Nega were the only defendants in custody.
Federal prosecutors have accused the defendants of having links with Ginbot 7, OLF and ONLF, groups designated as terrorists by the Ethiopian parliament. The espionage and high treason charges relate to allegations that the defendants maintained links with the Eritrean government. However, the defendants have denied all the charges.
The 16 defendants tried in absentia were also found guilty “as they have not contested the prosecution’s charge in court”. Dr. Birhanu Nega, Andargachew Tsige, Mesfin Aman, founders and senior leaders of Ginbot 7, are among those tried in absentia. Several board members of Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), considered as a mouthpiece of Ginbot 7, including Abebe Gelaw and Abebe Belew are also convicted.
The defendants now face prison terms of up to 25 years, the maximum prison term under the Ethiopian law. The court has adjourned the case to July 13 for sentencing. The court has told the defendants to submit their mitigating grounds in writing ahead of the sentencing.
The courtroom at Lideta was, once again, packed with attendants including local and international journalists as well as opposition figures such as Girma Seifu, member of UDJ and Member of Parliament. Diplomats including US ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald E. Booth, were also in attendance.
After the hearing, defense lawyers declined to comment on the verdict when approached by journalists.
Around the web on this topic (today):
Ethiopian Court Convicts 24 in Opposition of Terrorism Plots – Bloomberg
Ethiopia court finds 24 guilty of terrorism – AFP
Ethiopia Convicts 24 of Terrorism – VOA
Ethiopia convicts journalist, 23 others – Businessweek