Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [press release] the government of Ethiopia on Wednesday to release 17 prominent Muslim leaders who were arrested last month in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. HRW asserted that the Ethiopian government has used its anti-terrorism law [Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, text] as a tool to crack down on dissent, particularly dissent amongst the nation's Muslims, who constitute 30 percent of Ethiopia's population. In the press release, HRW senior researcher Ben Rawlence [official profile] contended that the detention of these 17 Muslim leaders constituted an abuse of power by Ethiopia's government:
The arrest of 17 prominent Muslims for exercising their basic rights to free speech is just the latest misuse of Ethiopia's laws, and notably its anti-terrorism law. All those held should be immediately released unless the government can promptly produce credible evidence of unlawful activity.An Ethiopian court is expected to rule this week on whether to bring charges against the detained Muslim leaders.
Ethiopia [JURIST news archive] has drawn criticism from the international community regarding its recent human rights record. Last month UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] expressed concern that Ethiopia is intimidating journalists [JURIST report]. Earlier in July, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] criticized [JURIST report] the imprisonment of 20 activists in Ethiopia under the nation's anti-terrorism law. In June, the Ethiopian Federal High Court [official website, in Amharic] convicted [JURIST report] 24 journalists, political opposition leaders and others under the anti-terrorism law. In January, the Ethiopian court convicted [JURIST report] three journalists, a political opposition leader and a politician's assistant for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism in violation of the controversial law. Human rights groups such as HRW have criticized the conviction and called the government to drop all charges. In December HRW stated [JURIST report] that the controversial law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." The statement came after two Swedish journalists were convicted [Bloomberg report] of supporting terrorism.