CAIRO - A leading human rights group has accused the Ethiopian government of targeting Muslims, arresting and charging them with terrorism offensive for no reason but participating in peaceful protests demanding religious freedoms.
The response of the Ethiopian government to the protest movement has involved widespread violations of human rights, Amnesty International said in a new report on its website.There has been almost no effort on the part of the authorities to engage with the protestors on their grievances or to put in place mechanisms for dialogue.
Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past months over government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslim community.
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".
Protesters also accuse authorities of fixing elections for the Majlis, the community's main representative body, after jailing Muslim leaders who would have participated in the vote.
To quell the protests, the Ethiopian government launched a major crackdown, arresting scores of Muslim protest leaders.
In July, 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.
Two local non-governmental organizations were also charged with "rendering support" to terrorism.
Large numbers of protestors have been arrested, many of whom remain in detention, Amnesty said.
There are also numerous reports of police using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.
Amnesty accused the Ethiopian government of using terrorism fight as a pretext to quell peaceful Muslim protests.
The government has repeatedly attempted to paint the protest movement as violent and terrorist-related in statements to the media and in parliament.
These individuals appear to have been arrested and charged solely because they exercised their human rights to freedom of expression and to participate in a peaceful protest movement.
The London-based group also accused Addis Ababa of using the excessively broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, introduced in 2009, to prosecute its dissenters and critics, including journalists and members of political opposition parties.
Amnesty International believes that the majority, if not all of those arrested, have been detained for exercising their right to peaceful protest, as protected under the Ethiopian Constitution and international law.
Amnesty called on Ethiopian authorities to offer detainees all their legal rights.
All detainees who remain in detention without charge must be brought swiftly before a judicial authority. Where credible evidence of a criminal offence exists people must be charged promptly, or should be immediately and unconditionally released, it said.
All detainees must have their rights in detention upheld, be provided with full access to legal representatives, medical care if they require it and to family members.
According to government 2007 census, Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia's population.Yet, other sources put Ethiopia's Muslims at about 50 percent of the country's population.