The wife of a senior Ethiopian politician was on Monday charged with funnelling money from the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to Islamist terror groups, at a hearing at the Ethiopian Federal High Court, on Monday.
Habiba Mohammed, wife of former Minister for the Civil Service Junedin Sado, was one of 29 Muslim activists accused of criminal conspiracy to commit unspecified acts of terrorism — charges that could attract the death penalty.
Those arrested were accused of belonging to, or supporting, the “Solution Seekers of the Muslim Community’s Problems”, a group that the prosecution contended is a terrorist organisation. Lawyers for the accused denied the charges.
A predominantly Christian country, Ethiopia has positioned itself as a bulwark in the U.S.-led war on terror in East Africa and has promulgated laws, such as the anti-terrorism proclamation 652 of 2009, which have an unusually broad definition of terrorism.
According to the prosecution, Ms. Habiba allegedly tried to steal 1.5 million Ethiopian Birr (approximately Rs. 45 lakh) from the Islamic Council of Ethiopia. He also allegedly received more than 50,000 ETB from the Saudi Arabian Embassy to fund “illegal activities” amongst Ethiopia’s Muslim population.
She was arrested in July this year and the money was recovered from her car, according to local media reports. The Embassy of Saudi Arabia could not be reach for comment.
Last month, Mr. Junedin was expelled from the government and from the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), a constituent of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling coalition. He previously served as the president of the OPDO.
In a letter published prior to his expulsion, Mr. Junedin defended his wife and criticised the Federal police, prompting a sharp reaction from the establishment. In the letter, Mr. Junedin said that he had approached the Saudi Arabian Embassy in his personal capacity to raise money to build a mosque to fulfil the wishes expressed in the will of his late mother. The money recovered from his wife, Mr. Junedin said, was meant for the mosque and not to fund terrorist activities.
Representatives of Ethiopia’s Muslim community have repeatedly accused the authorities of interfering in religious matters and promoting a specific sect of Islam known as Al Ahbash. Protests reached a head this July when police opened fire at a mosque in Addis Ababa and arrested several prominent Muslim leaders, who were also presented in court on Monday. Last week, three Muslim protestors and a policeman were killed in clashes between protestors and security forces in Gerba in the Amhara region.
Activists contend that the government is using anti-terror legislation to stifle legitimate protests.
In an interview last month, Minister of state for Communications, Shimeles Kemal described the protestors as “Extremist Islamists”.