Ethiopia announced on Saturday the prosecution of several opposition leaders, in particular for terrorism and incitement to violence, which risks further straining the situation in the Oromia region.
The charges, which could lead to life imprisonment, relate to violence that erupted after the late June murder of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer known for giving voice to the community.
In the days that followed, between 178 and 239 people were killed in inter-ethnic violence or by law enforcement.
Among the leaders prosecuted are Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, members of the Oromo Federal Congress party. They were among some 9,000 people caught up in the violence and mass arrests.
These have sparked strong criticism of the extent of the reaction of the government of Abiy Ahmed, the country’s first Oromo prime minister and 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
In total, the attorney general’s office announced on Saturday, via a Facebook post, the prosecution of 24 people.
Other suspects include several critical figures of Abiy Ahmed living abroad, such as activist Tesgaye Regassa and former ally of Prime Minister Berhanemeskel Abebe.
Jawar Mohammed’s lawyer Tuli Bayyisa told AFP on Saturday that he had not been informed of the charges against his client, which he considers unfounded.
“It’s amazing. I am 100% sure that although it may take years and years, they will not prove these claims if the law is really effective, ”he said.
The attorney general’s statement did not give details of the charges. According to Tuli Bayyisa, those weighing against Jawar Mohammed seem to concern a fight around the remains of Hachalu Hundessa, during which a police officer died.
“Not a single witness has consistently spoken of crimes committed by Mr. Jawar or Mr. Bekele,” the lawyer said.
Oromo nationalists, such as Mr. Jawar, consider that the Prime Minister has not done enough to respond to the political and economic marginalization they believe they suffer.
The legal proceedings against Mr. Jawar risk fueling violence in Addis Ababa and Oromia, the most populous region of the country and which surrounds the Ethiopian capital.
Last month, security forces killed at least 5 people during protests against the detention of Jawar Mohammed.