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Ethiopia: Muslim Protesters Face Unfair Trial

Human Rights Watch
Saturday, April 06, 2013

Press Release

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The prosecution of 29 Muslim protest leaders and others charged under Ethiopia's deeply flawed anti-terrorism law raises serious fair trial concerns. The trial is scheduled to resume in Addis Ababa on April 2, 2013, after a 40-day postponement.

The case has already had major due process problems. Some defendants have alleged ill-treatment in pre-trial detention. The government has provided defendants limited access to legal counsel and has taken actions that undermined their presumption of innocence. Since January 22 the High Court has closed the hearings to the public, including the media, diplomats, and family members of defendants.

"There seems to be no limit to the Ethiopian government's use of its anti-terrorism law and unfair trials to stop peaceful dissent," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. "The government's treatment of these Muslim leaders bears the hallmarks of a politically motivated prosecution."

The defendants include Muslim leaders and activists arrested and detained in July 2012 following six months of public protests in Addis Ababa and other towns by Ethiopia's Muslim community over alleged government interference in religious affairs.

Others on trial include Yusuf Getachew, former managing editor of the now defunct Islamic magazine Yemuslimoch Guday, and two Muslim nongovernmental organizations, allegedly managed by three of the defendants. Solomon Kebede was arrested and is being held under the anti-terrorism law.

According to official figures, Muslims make up approximately 30 percent of Ethiopia's population. The protest movement began after the government insisted that the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs accept members from an Islamic sect known as al Ahbash and tried to impose its teachings on the Muslim community. The government also sought to influence the operations of the Awalia mosque in Addis Ababa.

In January 2012 the Muslim community created a committee to represent it in discussions with the government. Nine of the 17 members of this committee are among those on trial: Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa, Kamil Shemsu, Jemal Yassin, Yassin Nuru, Sheikh Sultan Aman, Sheikh Mekete Muhe, and Sheikh Tahir Abdulkadir.

They were arrested as the Ethiopian security forces began a major crackdown on the protests at Awalia and Anwar mosques in Addis Ababa and on protests in other cities as well, arresting and assaulting hundreds of protesters. Although the government has not released numbers, credible sources told Human Rights Watch that as many as 1,000 people were arrested in July alone.

Journalists attempting to cover or report on the protests were also detained or intimidated. Despite these arrests, weekly protests have continued throughout the country.

As in Ethiopia's earlier terrorism trials of journalists and opposition leaders, the current trial has been marred by serious due process violations.Defendants have had erratic access to lawyers and relatives, and a number of the defendants were initially held for almost two months without access to legal counsel.

Lawyers for the defendants have repeatedly complained to the courts about the treatment of their clients, and alleged that the Muslim committee members and Getachew were mistreated during their pre-trial detention at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Department, known as Maekelawi prison, in Addis Ababa, which is notorious for torture.

The complaints do not appear to have been appropriately investigated. Both the first instance court and the higher court have claimed not to have the jurisdiction over these matters.

The defendants have all been charged with "terrorist acts" under article 3 of Ethiopia's 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, and with planning and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts under article 4. Descriptions of the charges in the initial charge sheet do not contain the basic elements of the crimes that the defendants are alleged to have committed.

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