Addis Ababa – An Ethiopian court handed down heavy jail terms to 10 people convicted of having links to al-Qaeda, a judge said on Tuesday.
The sentences ranged from three years to 20 years, and several of the convicted also face stiff fines.
Judge Bahiru Darecha said the heavy sentences were justified because the accused were found guilty of plotting attacks as a group.
“The fact that they were plotting as a group strengthens the penalty,” Bahiru said.
But the court stopped short of handing out the maximum sentences of life in prison because of mitigating circumstances, he said, noting that several of the men have families and have never been convicted of a crime in the past.
“The sentences have been given considering all circumstances – their age, profession, family background and previous record,” he said.
The 10, who included one Kenyan, were convicted earlier this month under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation for having links with Islamist extremists, in the first trial in Ethiopia for al-Qaeda suspects.
They were charged with plotting jihad in Ethiopia and accused of receiving weapons training both inside and outside the country.
The charges were first issued last April against 11 people, of whom one was found not guilty.
Only four of the defendants appeared in court, while the others were sentenced in absentia. The four men were expressionless as the judge read out the jail terms.
Rights groups criticise Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation for being vague and used to stifle peaceful dissent. Several journalists and opposition members have been convicted under the law since it was introduced in 2009.
Prominent blogger Eskinder Nega is serving an 18-year jail sentence along with leading opposition figure Andualem Arage, who was sentenced to life. Both men are appealing the ruling.