The Ethiopian federal high court fourth criminal bench yesterday passed a guilty verdict on eighteen people: four prominent leaders of the Ethiopian Muslim arbitration committee members, a journalist and thirteen others on counts including attempted terrorism, conspiracy , and incitement.
Ethiopian Muslims were protesting since 2011 against what many of them say were uncalled for interference by the government in the affairs of their religion. The protests came to a disturbing twist on 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 pertaining to three outstanding requests the former were demanding; i.e. the restoration of the Awoliya College and Secondary School administration sacked by the government in Dec. 2011, a free election without the interference of the government to replace members of the Islamic Supreme Council (Mejlis), again sacked by the government, and an end to the government’s attempt to publish and distribute books which carry a new Islamic teaching called Al-Habesh. The government denies its hands were on all the three demands but claims Awoliya College and Secondary School, a highly regarded Islamic school based in Addis Abeba next to the Grand Anwar Mosque, has become a breeding ground for radicalism and Wahabia.
The incident triggered one of the most disciplined and sustained Friday sit-in protests by hundreds of thousands of Muslim protestors here in Addis Abeba and other major towns throughout the country; and an online activism on twitter and facebook by an underground group called ‘Dimtsachin Yisema’ (let our voices be heard) has attracted the participation of thousands who continue demanding for the release of the committee members and the others. However, protestors were often met by the presence of large numbers of police forces who at many occasions have clashed with protestors.
The trial for the last three years hasn’t been without tense moments too. Many believe a state sponsored documentary called “Jihadawi Harekat” and was aired by the national television soon after the trial began and its incriminating contents had severely affected the independence of the judiciary.A statement released on the facebook page of ‘Dimtsachin Yisema’ said that the decision by the court clearly shows the government has no intension to solve its differences with Ethiopians Muslims in a peaceful manner.
Of the eighteen on whom the court passed guilty verdict yesterday are Abubeker Ahmed, Yasin Nuru, Kamil Shemsu and Ahmedin Jebel, who were prominent leaders of the protest and members of the committee. The court also passed guilty verdict on Yusuf Ahmed, editor at the now defunct magazine “YeMuslimoch Guday” (The Muslim’s Affair). The magazine’s chief editor, Akemel Negash, now lives in exile.
The court adjourned the sentencing for August 4, 2015.