CAIRO - An international human rights group has accused Ethiopia of persecuting Muslims over their protests against government interference in their religious affairs and using flawed anti-terror laws to demonize Muslims and silence their protests.
There seems to be no limit to the Ethiopian government's use of its anti-terrorism law and unfair trials to stop peaceful dissent, Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a press release obtained by OnIslam.net on Tuesday, April 2.The government's treatment of these Muslim leaders bears the hallmarks of a politically motivated prosecution.
Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past months over government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslim community.
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".
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.
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.
The Muslim defendants have all been charged with terrorist acts under article 3 of Ethiopia's 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
They have also been charged with planning and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts under article 4.
However, descriptions of the charges in the initial charge sheet do not contain the basic elements of the crimes that the Muslim defendants are alleged to have committed.
Human Rights Watch has also accused the Ethiopian government of launching a media war to demonize Muslim leaders.
The unfair trial of the Muslim activists is compounded by the government's TV program that demonizes them as terrorists' and threatens to raise suspicion of all Muslims and their ongoing protests, Lefkow said.
The Ethiopian government is prosecuting people who are simply trying to protect their rights to religious freedom and free speech.
In February, state television aired a film that linked Muslim protestors to militant groups in neighboring Somalia.
The New York-based rights group has also accused Addis Ababa of using anti-terror laws to silence the media.
Journalists covering Muslim protests against government interference have also been arrested.
Among journalists on trial are Yusuf Getachew, former managing editor of the now defunct Islamic magazine Yemuslimoch Guday and his successor Solomon Kebede, who has been held for more than two months in pre-trial detention without charges.
Kebede is being held in Maekelawi prison, without access to legal counsel, which heightens concerns about his treatment and safety.
Under the Ethiopian Constitution, detainees must be charged or released within 48 hours.
Rather than jailing peaceful protesters and critical journalists, the government should amend the anti-terrorism law and stop these politically motivated trials, Lefkow said.
The government should be reaching out to the Muslim community and discussing their grievances rather than silencing their voices and leaders.
The West-backed Ethiopian government has been using terrorism scarecrow to get Western support.
A November report by Amnesty International 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 London-based group also accused Addis Ababa of using terrorism fight as a pretext to quell peaceful Muslim protests.
Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia's population, according to the government's 2007 census.But other sources put Ethiopia Muslims at about 50% of the country's population.