ADDIS ABABA— An Ethiopian court has convicted ten people of having links to al-Qaida, but did not issue life sentences as the prosecution requested. The accused say they will appeal.
Prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years were handed to nine Ethiopians and one Kenyan on Tuesday after they were found guilty of having links with the terrorist organization al-Qaida. One Ethiopian was set free.
Lawyer Temam Ababulga defended one of the Ethiopians who was convicted on charges of terrorism recruiting. He says his client, like all the others convicted, will appeal the sentence.
“As to my client, because the sentence that is given to my client is not legal and based on the evidence," said the lawyer. "Why the person that my client is said to be recruiting is set free, there is no evidence and legality under which the court can make my client guilty.”
Along with the al-Qaida charges, the ten were convicted for other charges such as recruitment, laundering money and leading terrorism cells. The death penalty can be given in Ethiopia for terrorism crimes but prosecutors requested life sentences.
The judge said the court did not hand out life sentences because of mitigating circumstances, such as the fact that none of the convicted had previous crime records.
Lawyer Temam believes the convicted were arrested for other reasons.
“I think in this particular case, somebody is trying to persuade somebody that there is a danger of terrorism in this country which I don’t think so. There is no proper evidence to persuade me to think in such a way in this particular case,” he said.
The Ethiopians and the Kenyan were arrested in April 2012 and charged under Ethiopia's strong anti-terrorism law. International human rights organizations frequently criticize the law, saying the Ethiopian government is using it to silence dissident voices.
All the convicted will appeal their sentences in two weeks at the Federal Supreme Court.
This was the first trial in Ethiopia where people were suspected of having links with al-Qaida. But Ethiopian security forces arrested 15 people earlier this month for allegedly having links with al-Qaida and Somali militant group al-Shabab.