As human rights organizations continue to warn that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is turning Ethiopia into a dictatorship, his administration on Saturday charged the country’s most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism related offenses.
According to the attorney general’s office, Jawar and others were also charged with telecom fraud and several other offenses that could send them to prison for life if convicted. They would appear in court on Monday.
The Associated Press quoted Jawar’s lawyer, Tuli Bayissa as saying that the charges astonished the legal team, and that he couldn’t comment on them because he found out only by reading the official announcement on social media.
“This is unethical. I haven’t heard anything like this,” he told the medium, adding that he expects to receive details at Monday’s court appearance.
UNITED STATES ANGER
Last August, two high profile American senators sent a letter to the U.S. State Department calling for the immediate release of Ethiopian opposition figure Jawar Mohammed, as crackdown widened under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.
Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith urged the U.S. State Department to “take all appropriate actions” to ensure that Mr Jawar and fellow activist Misha Chiri “are treated humanely”.
They also called on the department to assist the pair to “exercise their full rights”.
Mr Jawar, who was previously exiled in the US where he established a media business in Minnesota, was detained in July by Ethiopian authorities after being linked to the murder of a policeman during violent protests following the killing of music star Hachalu Handessa in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Mr Jawar’s allies denied his involvement in the murder. “The recent political unrest and responsive actions taken by the Ethiopian government have threatened the progress that has been made,” the senators said in their letter.
In an opinion piece published this week in the Economist, Abiy Ahmed claimed that those opposing him were against the ‘transformation taking place’ in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.
He said the “individuals and groups, disaffected by the transformations taking place, are using everything at their disposal to derail them. They are harvesting the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious division and hatred.” He rejected “dangerous demagogues.”
He seemed to acknowledge human rights violations by security forces, although he also tried to absolve them of any blame, saying ‘law enforcement activities entail a risk of human rights violations and abuse.”
Human rights organizations have been warning against dictatorship in Ethiopia under a Prime Minister who won the Nobel Prize but is turning into an autocrat, postponing election, arresting protesters and detaining them for months without charges.
JOURNALISTS ALSO UNDER ATTACK
It’s not just politicians under attack in Ethiopia, journalists are also being hurt by the brutality of the government.
Last month, a Kenyan journalist who was arrested and detained in Ethiopia for two months before he was released after he contracted the deadly coronavirus indicated that the world may have celebrated changes in Ethiopia a little bit early by awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.
“All I can say is that I think maybe the world celebrated a little bit too early on the perceived changes in Ethiopia,” Kenyan journalist Collins Juma Osemo, also known as Yassin Juma, said in an interview with Voice of America.
Juma told Voice of America while in quarantine as he prepared to return home that his experience shows the press in Ethiopia continues to face severe restrictions.
He said he was in Ethiopia on assignment for the U.K.-based Sky News as a producer. His own company, Horn24 Media, also planned to film a documentary for the Oromo Broadcasting Network (OBN), an Ethiopian government affiliate in the Oromia region.
However, in an ordeal that lasted more than two months, Juma was arrested and faced multiple charges, including inciting violence and plotting to kill senior Ethiopian officials.
Juma told VOA that he contracted the coronavirus while in a detention center in Addis Ababa and broke a rib during an altercation with men he believes were security personnel after he was released on bail.
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent journalism advocacy group, reported on August 14 that the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister has ordered investigations into media organizations and arrested a total of 4,700 people.
Other human rights organizations have said the number of those arrested was above 9000.
Violent protests erupted in Ethiopia following the June 29 killing of popular Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa. Since then, Ethiopia has shut down the internet and accused some media outlets of inciting violence.
On August 5 and 6, 2020, security personnel in Ethiopia arrested three current and one former employee of the privately-owned Amhara Satellite Radio And Television (ASRAT), according to an August 10 statement from the media outlet on Facebook and the four individuals’ lawyer, Henok Aklilu, who spoke with CPJ via phone.
Journalists Belay Manaye and Mulugeta Anberbir, cameraperson Misgana Kefelegn, and former employee Yonatan Mulugeta were being held on allegations that they incited violence but have not been formally charged, according to the sources.
The four appeared at the Federal First Instance Court in Addis Ababa on August 7, according to ASRAT’s statement. Henok told CPJ that police accused the journalists of inciting violence by producing reports showing the Amhara people, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, as oppressed and characterizing the Ethiopian government as incapable of protecting the Amhara people. He said police said the reporting was aired between November 22, 2019 and June 2020, though did not point to specific reports or the role of each accused individual in the reporting.
VOA noted that “for years, rights groups and dissidents have raised concerns about the Ethiopian government’s use of anti-terrorism laws to target journalists”, adding that “violent unrest in the country, and concerns about the role of inflammatory news reports and social media posts in stoking violence, contributed to public support for the laws.”