October 5, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopia’s federal police on Saturday dismissed opposition allegations that police have arrested opposition protesters on mass following anti-government demonstrations last week.
Thousands of opposition protesters took to the streets of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, last weekend in protest to the country’s 2009 anti-terrorism law.
Demonstrators criticised the broadly defined anti-terrorism law saying it is being used by government as a tool to arbitrary detain critical journalists, human rights activists and dissidents.
The demonstration on September 29 was held in response to a call from the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, one of Ethiopia’s leading opposition groups.
Protesters called for amendments to the law and the immediate release of journalists and members of the opposition who remain imprisoned under the controversial terrorism law.
Following the demonstrations, organisers told Sudan Tribune that dozens of the group’s supporters were jailed.
However, a federal police official, who asked to remain anonymous, has dismissed the allegations.
“This is the usual trend opposition political parties use to get attention” said the police official. “Police didn’t arrest any protesters.”
According to opposition officials, some 80,000 people took part at the demonstration held under tight security. The police, however, put the figure at only a few hundred.
Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law has widely been condemned by many international human right groups, including by Reporters Without Borders who appealed the issue to be addressed at the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review session to be held next year.
“The anti-terrorism law is one the biggest obstacles to freedom of information in Ethiopia” Reporters Without Borders said.
“Ever since its adoption, the government has had an alarming legal tool that it uses to gag dissidents.”
“Without taking any position on the politics of the demonstrators, we urge the government to hear the popular demand for immediate reform of the anti-terrorism law. We also call on the government to respect the freedom of expression of all news and information providers, regardless of their political views.”
Ethiopia is ranked 137th out of 179 countries in the 2013 the press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.