Sixteen Muslim activists and two journalists sentenced to prison on Monday. They intend to appeal.
Ethiopia’s Federal Higher Court handed the prison sentences after finding them guilty of a plot to impose a radical version of Islam with the objective of establishing a religious state.
The defendants are among the 29 individuals detained in late 2012. Eleven of them had been released at earlier stages of the trial. (Prosecutors appealed and secured fifteen years sentence on one of the released).
The Court passed a guilty verdict on the eighteen defendants last month. They received seven to twenty-two years on Monday.
The government says the individuals have been secretly organizing and working since an unspecified date between Sept. 2007-Sept. 2008.
They were detained, however, in 2012 when the government started cracking down on the protest movement that began in Awolia religious school, in December 2011.
The protest movement – which started demanding the school’s independence from the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC), the governing body on Islamic matters.
The protests spread across the country demanding new election for EIASC itself and objecting alleged imposition of the Ahbash Islamic sect, which the protesters deem heretic. Government officials deny promoting Ahbash and insist Awolia should remain under EIASC. Though a new election for EIASC was held, its procedures failed to satisfy the protesters.
The individuals are accused of capturing the “Ethiopian Muslims Arbitration Committee” formed by the protestors in mid-2012 and using it to their radicalization ends. Activists, however, claim that the composition of the committee was certified by hundreds of thousands signatures and its conducts are representative. For several months after their detention, Muslim activists held protests in Mosques after Fridays to reaffirm their support. Whereas the leadership was taken over by a covert leadership communicating through a facebook page Dimtsachen Yisema.
Six of the defendants sentenced on Monday were members of the Committee.
Abubeker Ahmed (chairman of the committee), Ahmedin Jebel (PR head), Yasin Nuru (member) and Kamil Shemsu (Legal affairs) were sentenced to twenty two years imprisonment. Whereas, Ahmed Mustafa (Secretary) and Sheik Mekete Muhe (member) were sentenced to eighteen years in prison.
The rest twelve defendants – labeled collaborators, were sentenced varying prison terms.
Bedru Husein, Sabir Yirgu, Mohammed Abate, Abubeker Alemu (journalist), Munir Husien (artist) were sentenced to eighteen years imprisonment. Murad Shekur, Nuru Turki, Sheik Bahru Oumer and Yusuf Getachew (journalist) received seven years prison time.
The sentencing was met with an outcry from activists.
Dimtsachen Yisema called the trial a drama, adding that the verdict will not break their resolve and that there is no alternative but to organize for a protracted struggle with government acting with an intent and plan to impose religious oppression.
In an interview with Voice of America, a lawyer of the defendants claimed there were procedural irregularities that undermined their rights. The defendants will lodge an appeal in the Federal Supreme Court to challenge the ruling, the lawyer disclosed.