Supreme court reduces jail terms of Ethiopian Muslims including two journalists…

The charges against the 20 defendants also include “inciting protests among Muslims in the cities of Addis Abeba, Jimma and Wolkite by preparing and distributing fliers and stickers claiming that the government arrested “The Committee”; organizing unlawful demonstrations calling for and inciting protests.”

Ethiopia supreme court reduces jail terms of Ethiopian Muslims including two journalists who were sentenced on terrorism charges

Etenesh Abera

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Addis Abeba, December 11/2017 – The Ethiopian federal supreme court has today reduced the jail terms of 20 defendants who were accused and sentenced to various years in jail after having been charged of terrorism related offenses.

On January 03, 2017, the federal High court 19the criminal bench has sentenced all but one of the defendants under the file name of the first defendant Kedir Moahmmed Yusuf to five years a six months each while the 13th defendant, Journalist Darsema Sorri, was sentenced to four years and five months on grounds of poor health.

According to today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, the five years and six months jail term of all the defendants was reduced to three years and six months each; whereas the jail term of Journalist Darsema Sorri was reduced from four years and five months to three years and seven months.

However, four of the 20 defendants: the 5th, 10th, 14th, and 16th defendants namely Ibrahim Kemal, Usman Abdu, Fitsum Chernet,and  Shehbudun Nedredin  were among the 38 inmates facing a separate charge after having been suspected of setting the controversial fire that gutted the maximum security Qilinto prison.

The remaining 16 whose sentences are reduced are expected to be released from jail anytime soon since they have already served their times.

The trial

The 20 were charged with terrorism for contravening article 7(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (652/2009) and criminal charges for violating articles 32(1) (a) and 38(1) of the FDRE Penal Code of 2004. Today’s sentencing brings to an end a trial that began in Dec. 2014.

They were initially accused of conspiring and entering into an agreement to coerce the government to release 18 members of the Ethiopian Muslims arbitration committee from custody where they were being tried for terrorism related offenses. However, the charges have grown to include accusations of, among others, “organizing and communicating, including via telephone, to recruit members to incite violence and participating with terrorist organizations.”

The protest by Ethiopian Muslims has led to heavy crackdown against several members of the community

Although the 18 members of the Ethiopian Muslim arbitration committee were jailed to lengthy terms of varying periods, the 20 individuals, including  journalists Kalid Mohammed Ahmed, 26, and Darsema Sori Banqash, 48, from Radio Bilal, who were accused of coercing the state to release the 18, remained jailed.

In September 2016, Ethiopia’s President Mulatu Teshome has signed a certificate pardoning nine of the 18 members of the Ethiopian Muslim arbitration committee, including the first defendant, Abubeker Ahmed, a prominent Muslim scholar who was jailed for 22 years on August 03 2015.

However, prosecutors have continued pressing the charges against the 20 defendants, which led to their sentencing in January last year.

The charges against the 20 defendants also include “inciting protests among Muslims in the cities of Addis Abeba, Jimma and Wolkite by preparing and distributing fliers and stickers claiming that the government arrested “The Committee”; organizing unlawful demonstrations calling for and inciting protests.”

The two years trial of Abubeker Ahmed and the remaining 19 has been marked by several irregularities including inconsistent witness statements and complaints by the defendants of having had no access to their lawyers and having been subjected to torture and duress.

Background

Ethiopian Muslims were protesting since 2011 against what many of them say were an uncalled for interference by the government in the affairs of their religion. The protests came to a disturbing twiston Monday Oct. 29th 2012 when a federal court in Addis Abeba decided to charge 29 Muslim protestors arrested in July of the same year with “plotting acts of terrorism” under the country’s infamous anti-terror proclamation.

Many of the arrested were the Ethiopian Muslim arbitration committee members who volunteered to become members in order to seek solutions to narrow the widening gap between Muslims and the government. AS

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