The inconsistent allegations used to arrest and charge former minister Junedin Sado’s wife, Habiba Mohammed, defy common credulity. At first, the police claimed that she was arrested leaving the Saudi embassy carrying 100,000 dollars, along with extremist propaganda pamphlets written in Arabic. This was followed by a barrage of defamation by TPLF supporters that called for disciplinary action against the minister for living with a ‘terrorist’ wife.
In a letter to media outlets denouncing the defamation campaign, Junedin protested against the arrest of his wife without proper investigation. He also defended his wife’s actions by explaining how she ended up with the said money and books. He wrote that the money was donated by the embassy to help finish a memorial mosque, which was his mother’s last wish before she passed. But because the money raised during her funeral was not sufficient, he asked the Saudi embassy for a grant in his capacity as a citizen, not as minister.
After detailing the circumstances that led to Mrs. Habiba’s arrest, Sado pleaded with his ‘comrades’, affirming, once more, his unwavering loyalty to ‘his government’ and assuring them that his wife is neither ‘an extremist’ nor a supporter of the ‘extremist’ movement.
Asked to respond to Junedin’s comments in the media, police spokesman confirmed that Habiba was arrested because of her involvement in terrorist activity and lambasted the minister for claiming his wife was innocent before the court had rendered a verdict.
A month later, Junedin’s version of the story would be presented as reason for demoting him from his party’s executive committee. The party said the disciplinary action was necessary because taking money from a foreign embassy and building a mosque while holding a party and government leadership position was seen as serious misconduct. But the party cleared Junedin of criminal responsibility by voting against referring him to the prosecution. Yet his wife , who was acting on his behalf when she brought the money from the embassy is facing terrorism charges.
What is even more bizarre is that the police has completely changed the story about why Habiba is charged. Corroborating Junedin’s explanation, the amount of money she was supposed to have been carrying when she was arrested has been reduced to 50,000 Ethiopian birr from the 100,000 USD that police initially alleged. In another twist, Habiba is now accused of receiving 1.5 million birr from the Saudi embassy through another co-defendant over a period of time. Interestingly, when the 1.5 million birr story first surfaced, the police alleged that it is the amount of money Habiba “allegedly tried to steal” from the Mejlis. But this allegation could not fly because Habiba never worked for the Mejlis and therefore has no way of accessing such huge sum. Even more, to charge her in connection with Mejlis would mean to expose corruption of Mejlis leaders who have been acting on behalf of the government. Hence , this allegation was quickly dropped and now the prosecution says she took the said money from a person who used to work for the Saudi embassy.
The whole case against Habiba is a badly cooked up conspiracy with holes in all directions. First, many high ranking government officials were aware of the mosque story because they were present at the funeral where the mother’s will was announced by elders, and also at the inauguration ceremony of the mosque where the Saudi embassy pledged the money and Qurans. Second, both Junedin and his wife always travel in a government issued car, and are accompanied by federal security officers. Habiba was arrested while she was in a government car driven by a security personnel. Its a joke to claim that anyone under such close scrutiny would engage in anything remotely alarming to the regime, especially when in the presence of such officers, whom everyone in the government suspects are assigned not just to protect but also to spy on the officials.
The regime is trying to achieve multiple objectives by connecting Junedin’s wife to the Muslim movement. There are two targets; Junedin Sado and the Muslim movement. Junedin has been a target of attacks for quite some time that indicates that someone high within the system was trying to get rid off him. A month before Habiba’s arrest, rumor circulated alleging Junedin raped his sister-in-law, which was dismissed as baseless fabrication by the alleged victim and her parents. Sources say that plain clothed security officials approached Habiba and attempted to blackmail her into falsely testifying against her husband, which she refused. The police never brought up formal charge.
Weeks afterwards, Junedin’s car was hit by another car that sped away, resulting in a minor injury to him. When his relatives came from Adama and Arsi upon hearing the news, they were stopped by security agents guarding his house who told the visitors that Junedin was not at home and out of the country receiving treatment for a serious injury. The rumor, purposely spread, held that Junedin was in a life threatening situation. Then followed the arrest and dramatization of his wife. Therefore, connecting Junedin’s wife to the Muslim protest might be another tactic aimed at getting rid of him. Attacking a family member to take down officials did not start with Junedin. In 1995, in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Hosni Mubarak, the wife of Hassen Ali, then president of Oromia, was arrested. This also happened to be just weeks before a president of Oromia region was to be elected. In the subsequent appointment, although he got the majority vote at caffee Oromia, Hassen lost the presidency to Kuma Demeksa, the reason being, he acted inappropriately during his wife’s arrest. Most recently Tefera Walwa’s wife was thrown to jail for confronting a police officer who was manhandling her 80 year old father while arresting him. Apparently Tefera complained about the arrest of his wife and the police misconduct. Shortly afterwards, he lost the party and cabinet post he held for a long time.
Attacking Junedin is also part of the regime’s offensive strategy against the Muslim protest. First, by publicly humiliating and then demoting the most prominent Muslim official in the country, it wants to send message to the rank and file that supporting the movement will result in such severe punishment. Second, by implicating such high ranking official, the regime wants to give credence to its propaganda that the protesters want to establish an Islamic state, and that their conspiracy runs up within the state institutions. Third, by catching the lady while leaving the embassy, the regime wanted to use her as a proof for its allegation that foreign governments are behind this movement.
The charges brought against the Muslim leaders contain extensive, albeit indirect, accusation against the Saudi embassy portraying it as a bankroller of Islamic extremism in Ethiopia. Sources say that the regime’s overt identification of Saudi Arabia as the ‘external enemy’ that is behind the Muslim movement did not go well with the Kingdom, which is threatening to severe ties–an action that could have significant economic impact. Saudi Arabia is the number one import, and the forth export destination for Ethiopia, according to the data on CIA World Factbook. But such strong trade ties might not deter Ethiopia from escalating attacks on the Saudis, says one analyst because ;
Ethiopia’s alliance system has been basing itself, since recent times, more and more on international security than international trade especially when the two happen to clash. This may sound quite timely for a government that couldn’t succeed in fulfilling the bare minimum economic hopes of its people and thus now needs another source of legitimacy to cling on to power. The Muslims turned out to be the first victims of perhaps the last round of EPRDF’s desperate search for a rationale to rule.
Others doubt that the regime would go to such confrontation against a trading partner that could bring down the Ethiopian economy if it disrupts flow of oil even briefly. Therefore, some suspect that the Saudi rulers might have given tacit approval to their Ethiopian counterparts. Saudi Arabia is already widely portrayed by the Western media as financiers of terrorism, but it has had lit if any impact negative impact on the the relationship between the Western powers and the House of Saud. Thus the use of similar narrative by their friend across the Red Sea for domestic political agenda would not bother them much, as long as their economic interests in Ethiopia are not affected. However, while the West has hurled general accusation against Saudi’s, Western government rarely went as far as directly implicating the Saudi embassy of financing terrorism. By crossing that line, the Ethiopian regime is exposing its Saudi counterparts to internal pressure that would potentially force it to take tough measures for its own sake.
Click here to read the charge brought against the 29 Muslims