Ethiopian police detained 40 opposition supporters distributing leaflets calling for the repeal of an anti-terrorism law they say has been used to stifle dissent, the Unity for Democracy and Justice party said.The arrests in four districts of the capital, Addis Ababa, occurred yesterday as UDJ members distributed pamphlets asking people to sign a petition that also demands the release of jailed opposition members, religious leaders and journalists, the party said in an e-mailed statement.
“It is harassment,” UDJ Chairman Negasso Gidada said in a phone interview today from the capital. “There is no law that says you need permission to distribute leaflets.”
The mobile phones of government spokesman, Shimeles Kemal, and Bereket Simon, spokesman in the prime minister’s office, were switched off when called for comment. The opposition campaigners were released on bail late yesterday and the group plans to continue gathering signatories for the petition, Negasso said.
Opposition politicians and reporters have been arrested under an anti-terror law passed by Ethiopia in 2009. The U.S. and United Nations have criticized the legislation for curbing freedom of expression after the arrest of several journalists.
Online writer Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye, former deputy editor of the defunct Awramba Times, were convicted last year under the law for crimes including trying to incite anti-government protests and having links to terrorist organizations.
Ethiopia’s 547-member parliament has one opposition-party member.
UDJ held demonstrations on July 14 in two cities to protest the lack of democratic rights under the current government and it is planning to hold more events through September, including in Addis Ababa, Negasso said.
Its “Millions of Voices for Freedom” campaign follows a public protest in the capital last month by the opposition Blue Party that was the largest demonstration by a political party since 2005 when opposition supporters protested election results.