Ethiopian Government’s Case against Muslim Leaders Collapses, Exposing Rifts within the System

October 25, 2012 (Gulele Post) — The show trail of the leaders of the Ethiopian Muslim Movement, formally known as the Arbitration Committee, seem to have come to a dramatic end. The leaders were arrested during the regime’s heavy crackdown on the Muslim protest in Mid-July. That is they have been kept in jail without charge for over 10 weeks now. They appeared at court multiple times but the prosecution kept dragging its feet, asking the court  for extension. Two weeks ago, the judge apparently had it enough and warned the prosecution either to charge the accused or drop its case.

Therefore, everyone has been looking forward to October 24,2012 to see what will happen. Filled with suspense,  families of the accused, defense lawyers and spectators crammed  the court from early in the morning. Missing were, however, the prosecutor, the police and the accused prisoners. The judge came and called for the case. Having waited for a hour, the judge pounded his gavel and announced that the pending case is closed and the accused must be freed from wherever they might be held.

Whether the regime will abide by the court’s ruling and release the prisoners is yet to be seen.Speaking to the Voice of America, Tamam Ababulgu, the lead defense attorney for the Muslim leaders, said that he expects his clients to be freed tomorrow morning, as there is no legal ground to hold them after the case is closed.  This rarely happens in Ethiopia, where the prosecutor cooks up false evidence at ease, and the executive branch pushes the judiciary as it wishes.  Predictably people are confused and amused by the behavior of the prosecutor and the ‘bravery’ of the judge.

So what’s happening? The cold-blood murder of five civilians in Wallo this past weekend have enraged the population, re-energizing the movement that is calling for nationwide protest during the upcoming Eid Arafa payer on Friday. Thus, the regime might be attempting to defuse the movement’s momentum by spreading the news about the imminent release of its leadership.  That is velvet glove approach is not motivated by any change of heart but rather emerged out of the concern that should security crackdown fail to dampen the determination of the protesters, the government would be hard pressed to seek a humiliating compromise, which may further fuel rather than cool down the enthusiasm of the protesters for a more vigorous action.

But there seem to be larger issues at play as well. It has long emerged that as the movement grew stronger and yet maintained nonviolent discipline,   the ruling oligarchy has been divided on how to deal with the issue. The hardliner faction, led by Bereket Simon,   agitates for stepping up the crackdown on the protest and charging the leadership with terrorism, because doing otherwise would make the regime look weak, and potentially encouraging other segments of the society to raise similar demands–thereby opening the Pandora’s box. The other  faction, under guardianship of Sebehat Nega,  have been advocating a softer approach, arguing the government should release the political prisoners and reach a negotiated settlement, because the ruling party cannot afford such intense confrontation at the time when it needs to focus on filling the vacuum created by the demise of the “larger than life Great Leader.”

–Read Full Report on Gulele Post