Amnesty urges Ethiopia to release Facebook activist
Amnesty International on Friday urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release a prominent opposition politician who remain arrested for posting anti-government comments on Facebook.
Yonatan Tesfaye, the spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party, was jailed in December 2015 and is facing a possible death sentence on trumped-up terrorism charges, according to Amnesty.
In his Facebook comments, Yonatan accused the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) of using “force against the people instead of using peaceful discussion with the public”
The opposition politician was referring to government’s response to the deadly protests that have rocked larger parts of the Oromia region.
The anti-government protests in Oromia where Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromos, inhabit were triggered in protest to government plan to expand boundary of the capital, Addis Ababa, to parts of the Oromia region.
The government says his posts regarding the governments master Plan were in pursuit of the objectives of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a an opposition movement long designated as terrorist entity.
He was charged with “incitement, planning, preparation, conspiracy and attempt” to commit a terrorist act.
An Opposition official who preferred anonymity told Sudan Tribune that Yonatan was charged on Wednesday with 11 counts including inciting violence “to disrupt the social, economic and political stability of the country”
He added that Yonatan was also accused of collaborating with the banned OLF group to inflame the protests which according to Human Rights Watch has killed at least 140 people and injured hundreds. Tesfaye was arbitrarily arrested.
“The Ethiopian authorities have increasingly labelled all opposition to them as terrorism. Yonatan Tesfaye spoke up against a possible land grab in Oromia, which is not a crime and is certainly not terrorism” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
Amnesty said the opposition politician is facing a possible death sentence on trumped-up terrorism charges.
“He and many others held under similar circumstances should be immediately and unconditionally released”
“Yonatan Tesfaye has no demonstrated links to the OLF. His arrest is just another example of government overreach in the application of its seriously flawed anti-terrorism law. This law is once again being used as a pretext to quash dissent” said Wanyeki.
Amnesty said Ethiopian authorities should also promptly, impartially, thoroughly and transparently investigate claims that he may have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention at the Maekelawi Prison, a jail notorious for its widespread use of torture.
The Oromo protesters argue that expansion plan will lead to land grabbing and large scale evictions to tens of thousands of people from their ancestral lands.
The government however says the expansion plan aims to provide a number of services to remote areas of the region.
The Ethiopian government has previously accused the protesters of having direct connection with forces that have taken missions from foreign terrorist groups.
Human Rights Watch spokesman Felix Horne then described government’s response to the protests as “a dangerous trajectory that could put Ethiopia’s long-term stability at risk”
The government has finally scrapped the expansion plan after the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) party which is the regional ally of the ruling EPRDF party decided to withdraw its support to the expansion plan.
The Oromos, who reside at Oromia region surrounding Addis Ababa, make up 40% of the country’s total population.
With population of around 95 million, the horn of Africa’s nation is the continent’s second most populace nation.