Nairobi — Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday urged Authorities in Ethiopia to immediately release 17 prominent Muslim leaders arrested following a series of protests in the capital, Addis Ababa.
HRW said the Muslim leaders have been detained without any charge for almost three weeks now.
Since mid-July, Ethiopian police have harassed, assaulted, and arbitrarily arrested hundreds of Muslims at Addis Ababa's Awalia and Anwar mosques who were protesting for "unconstitutional government interference" in religious affairs, the group claim adding that although most have now been freed, 17 remain in detention where they are facing mistreatment.
"The Ethiopian government should address the grievances of its Muslim community through dialogue, not violence," said Ben Rawlence, HRW's senior Africa researcher.
"The security forces should be upholding the law, not breaking it."
Following the violent clashes with police at the Anwar Mosque, the federal police then said it has arrested 71 people including those who organise and fund what it described as the "extremist group" responsible.
The Ethiopian government has repeatedly dismissed the allegations of interference in Muslim affairs, accusing the "extremist group" of attempts to turn the nation into an Islamic state.
The Muslim protesters were accused of disrupting the peaceful public and attempting to divide the Muslim community.
Dozens were also arrested following similar protests during the African Union Summit in July and were accused of attempting to deliberately disrupt the continental meeting.
Contrary to the police's initial reports, witnesses and detainees told HRW that hundreds of protesters were taken into custody where they faced inhumane treatment including being forced to run barefoot on sharp stones and being beaten.
HRW said that in addition to those in detention, other prominent Muslim community members have been under house arrest since July 21.
The families of two journalists from newspaper Yemuslimoch Guday [Muslim Affairs] Akemel Negash and Isaac Eshetu, were held under house arrest for at least ten days.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last week said on July 20 security forces raided the home of Yusuf Getachew, editor of Yemuslimoch Guday, and confiscated his personal belongings including four of his mobile phones, his wife's digital camera and 6,000 birr (US$334).
The police reportedly searched the houses of many Muslim leaders, activists, and journalists.
According to HRW since 2011 the Ethiopian government has convicted at least 34 opposition members, journalists, and others under the country's controversial Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
International human rights organisations have denounced the 2008 antiterrorism law saying it is vague, broadly defined and contain provisions that violate fundamental due process rights such as holding suspects up to four months in custody without charge.
"In the hands of the Ethiopian government, the anti-terrorism law is becoming a multi-purpose tool used against any kind of dissent," HRW's Rawlence said.
Muslims represent some 40 percent of the dominantly Christian nation of 81 million people. The country has for been seen as a symbol of religious tolerance, however the recent religious related unrest has become a major concern.