About 2,000 people are facing charges over violence that erupted in Ethiopia after the June killing of an iconic pop star from the Oromo ethnic group.
Attorney General Gideon Timothewos made the announcement on Thursday, denying investigations were politically motivated. “The current figure we have is about 2,000 suspects are being charged for their participation in the violence that has taken place in Oromia regional state,” he said during a news conference.
The charges are linked to days of inter-ethnic attacks and deadly violence triggered by the killing on June 29 of Hachalu Hundessa, an iconic Oromo singer and prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018.
More than 9,000 people, including journalists and prominent opposition politicians, were caught up in subsequent mass arrests that stoked criticism towards the prime minister.
Among the most high-profile opposition politicians set to stand trial is Jawar Mohammed, a former media mogul-turned-politician who was once considered an Abiy ally.
Jawar is accused of crimes including terrorism and incitement to violence, but on Monday he appeared in court and denounced the charges as part of a plot to sideline Abiy’s opponents ahead of national elections expected next year.
The opposition leader has huge support among youth in Oromia. He returned to Ethiopia after Abiy came to power and urged exiles to come home amid sweeping political reforms that led to the prime minister receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The Oromo make up Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but had never held the country’s top post until they helped bring Abiy to power. Now, ethnic tensions and inter-communal violence are posing a growing challenge to his reforms.
Jawar has been fiercely critical of Abiy over the postponement of a general election once planned for August because of the coronavirus pandemic. The government’s mandate expires late next month, and a new election date has not been set.
Gideon on Thursday rejected any suggestion that the cases against Jawar and others were tainted by politics.
“Although suspects now charged include politicians, no one has been held for their political activity,” the attorney general said.
“We have to distinguish between peaceful, lawful political mobilisation and the kind of rhetoric, the kind of ultranationalist militant violent political activism, that results in deaths and injury of citizens,” Gideon said.