Case Summary and Outcome
On January 3 2017, the Federal High Court of Ethiopia sentenced Radio Bilal journalists Khalid Mohammed Ahmed, 26, and Darsema Sori, 48, to prison following their conviction in December for inciting extremist ideology and planning to overthrow the government. The journalists were imprisoned in connection with their coverage of protests by Ethiopian Muslims against rising government interference in their religious affairs. They were convicted under the country’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Federal Penal Code.
Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
The Ethiopian Federal High Court found Khalid, news editor, and Darsema, senior editor, for the Islamic radio station of Bilal guilty on terrorism charges in December 2016. According to the independent news website Addis Standard, they were initially accused of conspiring and entering into an agreement to coerce the government to release 18 members of the Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee, who, in 2011, had demanded that the government ease its control over the functioning of Islamic institutions. The government’s rejection of those demands followed by its closure of a highly regarded Islamic teaching school for allegedly spreading extremism led to mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital and other cities that lasted for more than four years.
The terrorism charges also stemmed from the two journalists’ coverage of the protests through Radio Bilal, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Both were found guilty under Article 7(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and Articles 32(1)(a) and 38(1) of the Federal Penal Code of 2004. Article 7(1) of the Anti-Terrorism law imposes five to ten years imprisonment for any person who “recruits another person or takes training or becomes a member or participates in any capacity for the purpose of a terrorist organization or committing a terrorist act.” The Federal High Court found both Khalid and Darsema guilty as “principal criminal” actors under Article 32(1)(a) of the Penal Code, and for conspiracy to commit a crime pursuant to Article 38(1).
Their sentencing hearing was deferred to January 3, 2017.
The Ethiopian Government has not made any of the court documents, including the sentencing judgment, publicly available. The Addis Standard reported that as the court handed down prison sentences, the two journalists and 18 other defendants shouted “Dimtsachin Yisema” (Let our voices be heard). Khalid was sentenced to five years and six months, and Darsema to four years and five months in prison, reduced because of his battle with tuberculosis, according to the report. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2016 prison census report, the two journalists were among 16 journalists imprisoned in Ethiopia. The census report named the country among the world’s “the top five jailers of journalists,” as it has intensified crackdown on the press in recent years.