ADDIS ABABA - In a major anti-government demonstration, thousands of Ethiopians have taken to the streets to demand the release of political detainees and halting government interference in religious affairs.
"We have repeatedly asked the government to release political leaders, journalists and those who asked the government not to intervene in religious affairs," Yilekal Getachew, chairman of the Semayawi (Blue) Party which organized the protests, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
About 10,000 Ethiopians marched through Addis Ababa's northern Arat Kilo and Piazza districts on Sunday, June 2, to demand the release of political detainees and halting interference in religious affairs.
Protestors chanted slogans demanding justice and freedoms for detainees and respect of Ethiopian constitution.
"Justice! Justice! Justice!" read some banners carried by protestors.
"We call for respect of the constitution," chanted other protestors.
Ethiopian Muslims have taken to the streets over the past months to protest government interference in their religious affairs.
Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
They say that 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.
To quell the Muslim protests, the Ethiopian government launched a major crackdown, arresting scores of Muslim protest leaders.
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.
Lawyers have complained of maltreatment of Muslim detainees, accusing the government of keeping the defendants in Maikelawi prison, which is notorious for torture.
Protestors also called for government action to tackle unemployment, inflation and corruption.
"If these questions are not resolved and no progress is made in the next three months, we will organize more protests, Getachew told Reuters.
It is the beginning of our struggle.
A few police officers watched Sunday's demonstration, for which the authorities had granted permission.
"We called the demonstration to ask for the reform of policy issues for the high cost of living, high rate of youth unemployment and systematic corruption," Blue Party leader Yilkal Getnet told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Blue Party has given a three-month ultimatum to respond to their demands.
"If the government does not give a satisfactory answer for these questions, we will continue our protest peacefully in the coming months.
Though its economy is one of the fastest-growing in Africa, Ethiopia is often criticized by human rights watchdogs for clamping down on opposition and the media on national security grounds.
Critics point to a 2009 anti-terrorism law that makes anyone caught publishing information that could induce readers into acts of terrorism liable to jail terms of 10 to 20 years.
Last year, an Ethiopian court handed sentences of eight years to life to 20 journalists, opposition figures and others for conspiring with rebels to topple the government.More than 10 journalists have been charged under the anti-terrorism law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which says Ethiopia has the highest number of exiled journalists in the world.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net