Ethiopia charges prominent opposition figure with terrorism

Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses and other crimes that could bring life in prison

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses, telecom fraud and other crimes, the attorney general’s office announced Saturday. They could face life in prison if convicted.

They will appear in court on Monday. The charges relate to deadly violence that erupted in July in parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018. Authorities said over 180 people were killed in July’s unrest.

Jawar has been detained since he and several thousand people were arrested during the July violence. His lawyers have repeatedly asserted he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release.

His lawyer Tuli Bayissa told The Associated Press that the charges astonished the legal team, and 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 said. He expects to receive details at Monday’s court appearance.

Human rights groups have warned that such arrests show that Abiy’s political reforms are slipping.

Youth in Oromia have staged a number of recent protests calling for the release of political prisoners, including one in late August that left “scores” of people dead, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and witnesses who spoke to the AP.

Abiy in a opinion piece published this week in The Economist wrote that “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.”

The prime minister also acknowledged alleged abuses by security forces during the bouts of unrest, saying that “given the institutions we have inherited, we realize that law-enforcement activities entail a risk of human-rights violations and abuse.” Security reforms take time, he said.

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