ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Ethiopia has charged its most prominent opposition figure, Jawar Mohammed, and 23 others with terrorism-related offenses, telecommunications fraud and other crimes, the attorney general's office announced Saturday. They could face life in prison if convicted.
They are to appear in court Monday. The charges relate to deadly violence that flared in July in parts of the capital, Addis Ababa, and the Oromia region after the killing of singer Hachalu Hundessa, a prominent voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rising to power in 2018. Authorities said more than 180 people were killed in July's unrest.
Jawar, a media mogul-turned-politician, has support among youths in the Oromia region and returned to Ethiopia after Abiy took office and urged exiles to return home amid sweeping political changes that led to him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize last year.
The Oromo are 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 intercommunal violence are posing a growing challenge to his changes.
Jawar has become critical of the Ethiopian leader, most recently over the postponement of the 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.
Jawar has been detained since he and several thousand people were arrested during the July violence. His lawyers have repeatedly asserted that he was locked up because of his political views and have called for his release.
His lawyer Tuli Bayissa told The Associated Press that the charges astonished the legal team, and he couldn't comment on them because he found out about them only by reading the official announcement on social media.
"This is unethical. I haven't heard anything like this," he said. He expects to receive details at Monday's court appearance.
Human rights groups have warned that such arrests show that Abiy's political changes are slipping.
Youths in Oromia have staged a number of recent protests calling for the release of political prisoners, including one in late August that left "scores" of people dead, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and witnesses who spoke to the AP.