By Adane Bikila
Addis Ababa — RIGHTS groups have demanded the release of a prominent critic of the Ethiopian government facing a possible death sentence over comments he posted on Facebook.
Yonatan Tesfaye, the former spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party, was arrested in December 2015 and held in lengthy pre-trial detention for posts criticising government’s crackdown on opponents.
Tesfaye, who is facing terrorism charges over his opinions, is held at the Maekelawi Prison, a jail notorious for its widespread use of torture.
The government says his posts against a government plans 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 organisation.
He has been held without charge for months on end until last Wednesday when he was charged with “incitement, planning, preparation, conspiracy and attempt” to commit a terrorist act.
Rights groups argued his arrest is another example of government overreach in the application of its anti-terrorism laws.
“He and many others held under similar circumstances should be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa and the Great Lakes.
More than 150 people have been killed in the ongoing crackdown against protests.
Protests have peaked since the beginning of the year as demonstrators in the Oromia region oppose government’s plans to extend the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa.
Oromia, the largest region in Ethiopia with some 27 million people, includes the capital.
Although the government has imposed a near total media blackout in the capital, including confiscating satellite dishes, protesters have been able to send videos, photos and messages to the Diaspora about the alleged brutality.