Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    July 6, 2015
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Ethiopia, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security, Religious Freedom
  • Tags
    Civil Society Organizations, Terrorism

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Members of the Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee and others from the Ethiopian Muslim community protested the government’s interference with their religion, including the closure of Awoliya college, Ethiopia’s only Muslim school and its continued control over the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council. The government arrested eighteen individuals, including four leaders of the Committee, journalist Yusuf Ahmed, and thirteen others. Subsequently, the Federal High Court of Ethiopia for the Fourth Criminal Bench found the individuals guilty of attempted terrorism, conspiracy, and incitement under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009.

Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official records of the case and the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It should be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about the case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


The Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee is a group of religious scholars that sought solutions between the Muslim community and the government concerning the government’s interference in the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (the official Islamic authority in Ethiopia), as well as the controversial indoctrination of Ethiopian Muslims to an Islamic sect. [1] They also pleaded the government to reopen Awoliya College, country’s only Muslim college, which had been closed because the government claimed that the institution supported radicalization. [2] Since 2011, the Muslim community participated in demonstrations throughout the country in support of the demands of the Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee. Journalist Yusuf Ahmed, an editor of YeMuslimoch Guday, utilized the magazine to publicly share the grievances of the protesters. [3]

In July 2012, the government arrested four leaders of the Muslim Arbitration Committee, Yusuf Ahmed, and many other protesters. [4] On October 29, 2012, a federal court in Addis Abeba charged the defendants with the attempt or conspiracy of “plotting acts of terrorism” under the Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. [5] The defendants denied the allegations.

[1] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

[2] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

[3] allAfrica, Ethiopia: Court Passes Guilty Verdict on Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee Members Et. al, (July 07, 2015),

[4] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

[5] allAfrica, Ethiopia: Court Passes Guilty Verdict on Ethiopian Muslim Arbitration Committee Members Et. al, (July 07, 2015),


Decision Overview

The Ethiopian Federal High Court for the Fourth Criminal Bench rendered the verdict. The court found the eighteen defendants guilty on counts of attempted terrorism, conspiracy, and incitement pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. [1] And, at a subsequent hearing, it sentenced the defendants to imprisonment. [2]

During the trial, the defendants contested the evidentiary proceedings as the government presented most of its evidence, including audio and video of speeches made by the defendants, witness testimonies, and evidence obtained through surveillance in closed sessions, which deprived the defendants’ opportunity for cross-examination. [3] The defendants also questioned the independence of the court as one defendant said “[w]e appear before this court not because we thought that this court is an institution of truth and justice that judges without fear of favor but to clarify the historical record.” [4]

[1] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

[2] Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners, Illegal and Unjust Condemnation of Muslim Detainees, (August 4, 2015),

[3] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

[4] Aljazeera America, Ethiopia Politicizes Courts to Strangle Dissent, (July 10, 2015),

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The decision contracts expression as it found guilty the defendants under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for protesting and expressing their views and claims that the government was interfering with their religion.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Even though the verdict from the Federal High Court is not binding to the rest of the courts in Ethiopia, its interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation establishes a dangerous precedent and a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:

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