The Ethiopian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release a prominent opposition politician facing a possible death sentence on trumped-up terrorism charges over comments he posted on Facebook, said Amnesty International.
Yonatan Tesfaye, the spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party, was arbitrarily arrested in December 2015 and held in lengthy pre-trial detention for comments he posted on Facebook. The government says his posts against a government plan to extend the capital’s administrative authority to the Oromia region were in pursuit of the objectives of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which it considers a terrorist organization.
“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.
“He and many others held under similar circumstances should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Tesfaye was arbitrarily arrested in December 2015 and held without charge for months on end. It was not until May 4, 2016 that he was charged with “incitement, planning, preparation, conspiracy and attempt” to commit a terrorist act. The state prosecutor charged that Tesfaye’s remarks were in pursuit of the OLF’s objectives.
“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.
The 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.