An Ethiopian court this week sentenced 20 Islamist activists to over 5-years in prison on charges of plotting to establish an Islamic state in the East African nation.
The defendants were all found guilty of plotting to stage terrorism attacks and plots to turn the dominantly Christian nation into an Islamic state.
The federal court said the activists had been conspiring to incite protests among Muslims in cities including the capital, Addis Ababa, Jimma and Wolkite.
They were also accused of organising to recruit members to incite violence and stage terror attacks in various parts of the country.
Further more the court Said the accused had attempted to free 18 other jailed members of the self-calling Ethiopia Muslim Arbitration Committee.
Accordingly, the court has sentenced all except one to five and half-year behind bars.
The 13th defendant who is suffering of tuberculosis was sentenced to four years and five months after the court considered his health conditions.
The 20 religious activists were arrested in 2015 following Muslim protests between 2011-2013 during when Ethiopian Muslims accused the government of interference in Islamic affairs, an allegation officials denied.
Mustafa Sefi, lawyer of the defendants told Journalists that the court ruling was unjust.
He argued that the court ruling has denied citizen’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression.
Among the the total 20 sentenced were also two journalists working for the Ethiopian faith- based station, Radio Bilal, over charges of conspiring with the activists.
Khalid Mohammed, a news editor and Darsema Sori, a senior editor at the radio station were convicted along with the others on December 21 court hearing on charges of inciting extremists ideology and planning to overthrow the government through promoting Muslim resistance against government interference on religious affairs.
Following the court ruling, international press freedom campaigner, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the court ruling.
“These harsh sentences are the latest evidence that Ethiopian government’s hostility to freedom of expression and the rights of journalists to do their jobs without fear of censorship or arrest” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator.
Quintal stressed that the two are journalists and not terrorists and must immediately be released.
According to the New York-based press freedom group, the two journalists are among the total 16 journalists recorded imprisoned in Ethiopia under CPJ’s 2016 prison census.
CPJ says Ethiopia is among top five worst jailers of journalists world wide.