[JURIST] Several human rights and civil society groups called on the international community [press release] Thursday to address the killing 140 protesters [JURIST report] in Ethiopia's Oromia region. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] said that the protests over government plans to expand the capital of Addis Ababa into the region began peacefully, but, as they increased, military forces began to use excessive force against the protesters, labeling them "terrorists." This has led several organizations such as CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project to rally together to attract the attention of the international community. In addition to the violent reaction to the protesters in the region, AI noted that many who were arrested were being held "solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly," demanding that they be released immediately.
In December HRW reported that activists had witnessed security forces firing into throngs of protesters [HRW report]. That report came a day after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn [BBC profile] warned [IBT report] of "merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilising the area." Ethiopian officials have been claiming that the demonstrations are a front for those involved in the protests to insight violence and threaten the stability of the nation. Ethiopia has used its broad anti-terrorism laws to detain political opposition before. In October five Ethiopian bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges [Zone9, in Amharic] relating to publications on their website. The publications, critical of the government, landed nine bloggers in jail [JURIST report], and one charged in absentia, in April 2014 for violation of the laws. That same month UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson [official profile] expressed concern [press release] over the rising use of counter-terrorism measures [JURIST report] around the world. Many nations have used counter-terrorism as an excuse to restrict public assembly and stop the activities of public interest groups, Emmerson said.