ADDIS ABABA— The Ethiopian High Federal Court has dropped one charge in the terror case against 29 Muslims. Terrorism charges were not dropped, although defense lawyers had argued those charges are unconstitutional.
The 29 Muslims who were arrested in July on terrorism charges and accused of trying to overthrow the government appeared in court. Their defense lawyer Tamam Ababulga says the charge of attempting to destroy the government and creating a Muslim state was dropped.
“Charges dropped, because the element that constitutes the two charges are the same. Therefore, they may end up in double jeopardy," Ababulga said. "This is very significant because, if the case is continued in such a way, it may double the punishment.”
The charge of being involved in terrorism activities was not dropped. The accused include prominent members of the Muslim community and activists. They were charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation that was implemented in 2009.
This proclamation has been widely criticized by international human-rights organizations that say that it is used to silence dissident voices. Several opposition leaders, journalists and activists have been imprisoned under the proclamation.
The defense team for the 29 Muslims argued in court that the proclamation is unconstitutional. Ababulga says the judges of the Federal High Court did not directly respond to his claim.
“The court simply evaded the main point of our argument and they say there is nothing there unconstitutional. But they say in 90 days you can bring it to the House of Federation by yourself," said Ababulga. "But they simply evade the very essence of our argument."
There has been tension between the Ethiopian government and members of the minority Muslim community since the beginning of the year. Some felt government was interfering in religious practices by promoting a different kind of Islamic thought. This led to weekly demonstrations and reached a head in July when the 29 Muslims were arrested during an overnight meeting.
All the accused pleaded not guilty in court on Monday. The trial will start in January when prosecutors present their witnesses.