NAIROBI - An Ethiopian crackdown on Muslim demonstrations against government interference in religious affairs is casting its pale on the protest movement, amid signs that the dissent is dying down.
So far, we have not seen anything illegal. None," Hailu Shawel, chairman of the opposition All Ethiopian Unity Party, told Voice of America.
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Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past weeks over government interference in the religious affairs of Ethiopian Muslims.
To quell the protests, the Ethiopian government launched a major crackdown, arresting scores of Muslim protest leaders.
Last month, security forces raided the Awalia Mosque in Addis Ababa, arresting more than 70 Muslims on claims of planning protests.
Among those arrested were the chairman of the committee chosen to be representative of the Muslim community Abubakar Ahmed, spokesman Ahmedin Jebel, and other committee members.
Sources told OnIslam.net that those arrested are being kept in custody in Maikelawi and are at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment.
In response, thousands of Muslims gathered at the Anwar Mosque to protest the arrests and interference in their religious affairs. More Muslims, however, were arrested.
Ethiopian police officials have accused those arrested of masterminding the Muslim protests.
Federal Police commissioner Workneh Gebeyehu has said even before the arrests, the members of the committee were urging others to follow in their footsteps, therefore those arrested at Anwar were organized by the committee.
He claimed that the police investigation shows the whole movement is associated with extremism.
But since the arrests, Muslim protests against government interference in their religious affairs have quieted.
Last week, Muslim demonstrators stood silently outside the Anwar mosque with their arms crossed, to mime the act of being arrested, or with their hands over their mouths.
Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia's population.
The Ethiopian government denies accusations of suppressing the Muslim community, arguing that it is only fighting extremism in the country.
The issue is not about religion, police commissioner Gebeyehu said.
Our people, particularly those peace-loving Muslims, should understand this."
But Ethiopian politicians warn that the government crackdown on Muslims would fuel extremism and lure foreign extremists into the country.
The internationalists will walk in and create a situation that we see today in many countries, Hailu said.
We don't want that. We have enough problems.
Ethiopian Muslims accuse the government of spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the umbrella Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (Majlis) to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
The government of Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Muslims also accuse the Ahbash of launching an "indoctrination program" in predominantly Muslim areas, forcing people to attend "religious training" camps or risk police interrogation and possible arrest.
Founded by Ethiopian-Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, Ahbash is seen by the West as a "friendly alternative" to Wahabi ideology, which the West sees as extreme and militant.
Muslims say Ahbash imams are being brought over from Lebanon to fill the Majlis and teach Ethiopians that Wahabis are non-Muslims.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net