FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 6, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly decries the convictions and sentencing of 18 Muslim leaders in Ethiopia. They were charged under Ethiopia’s controversial Anti-Terror Proclamation and found guilty of plotting to institute an Islamic government. USCIRF has long advocated for the leaders’ release.
“These individuals were peaceful advocates for religious freedom,” said USCIRF Chairman Dr. Robert P. George. “This trial was a continuation of the Ethiopian government’s use of the anti-terror law to stifle human rights advocacy and dissent.”
The 18 were sentenced on August 3. Four defendants received 22-year prison sentences; the other 14 received sentences ranging from seven to 18 years. Among those sentenced were members of an Arbitration Committee selected by Muslim protestors to represent their concerns before the Ethiopian government, as well as journalists and other advocates.
USCIRF calls on the U.S. government to speak out publicly against these sentences, as well as other cases in which human rights advocates face trumped-up charges.
The Muslim leaders were arrested in July 2012, along with hundreds of other Muslims who were peacefully protesting against government interference in the Islamic community’s religious affairs. Protestors were reportedly beaten, with some witnesses alleging police use of tear gas and live ammunition. While most of those arrested were later released, 29 were charged on October 29, 2012 under the government’s Anti-Terror Proclamation. In December 2013, charges were dropped against 11 of the defendants.
When USCIRF was in Ethiopia in December 2012, the delegation met with the defendants’ lawyers who reported that their clients had been tortured and mistreated in detention and denied full access to legal representation. In February of this year, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right asked Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to investigate allegations of torture and other violations of due process rights.
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-786-0615.