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Ethiopia files terror charges against activist

September 19, 2020

Jawar Mohammed and over 20 others could face life in prison if convicted. Jawar has huge support among youth in the Oromia region and has been fiercely critical Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for postponing general elections.

Jawar Mohammed  - REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
Image: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Ethiopian authorities charged the country's most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses and other criminal activities, the attorney general's office announced on Saturday.

The charges relate to violence that erupted in the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after popular singer Hachalu Hundessa was shot and killed in the capital on June 29.

Hundessa was a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018.

The charges, filed on Wednesday, include "trying to incite ethnic and religious-based conflict to cause citizens to turn on their fellow citizens."

Other Abiy-critics were charged, including another prominent Oromo activist Tsegaye Regassa and former Abiy ally-turned-critic Birhanemeskel Abebe.

The 24 suspects scheduled to appear in court on Monday, the statement from the attorney general's office read.

They could face life in prison if convicted.

Read more: Ethiopia's democratization at risk

Who is Jawar Mohammed?

The media mogul-turned-activist is part of Ethiopia's Oromo ethnic minority — Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. He has huge support among youth in the Oromia region.

The Oromo helped bring Abiy to power in 2018 and Jawar returned to Ethiopia from a stint in the United States.

The president initiated sweeping political reforms, but since then ethnic tensions and intercommunal violence have been growing.

Jawar has loudly criticized the Abiy's postponement of the general election — set for August. The government's mandate expires late next month but a new election date has not been set.

Jawar has been imprisoned since the July unrest. His lawyers have repeatedly asserted he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release.

'Unethical' arrest

His lawyer Tuli Bayissa told news agency the Associated Press that the charges astonished the legal team. He said he couldn't comment on them because he found out only by reading the official announcement on social media.

"This is unethical. I haven't heard anything like this," he said. He expects to receive details at Monday's court appearance.

Read more: Opinion: Ethiopia is on the brink of failure

kmm/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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