At least 81 people in Ethiopia have been killed in massive protests that erupted following the killing of musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa.
The 34 year-old singer—a prominent figure of the Oromo ethnic group—was shot dead while driving to Addis Ababa on June 29. The motive for his death remains unknown.
In the days following his death, demonstrations broke out in the country’s capital before spreading throughout several parts of the Oromia region, where Hachalu is from. Since the protests began, three police officers and 78 civilians have been killed including Hachalu’s uncle, the Oromia region police force said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Hachalu was a key figure in the 2015 protest movements that let to major political reforms in Ethiopia in 2018: his songs became the anthems for the protests that resulted in the resignation of Ethiopian Prime MinisterHailemariam Desalegn in 2018.
Police say they have arrested 35 people since the protests began including Jawar Mohammed, a top Oromo leader and critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was arrested during an altercation with security forces. In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the arrests of prominent Oromo figures “could make a volatile situation even worse.”
Internet has been shut down across the country this week, which rights groups say is part of an effort to prohibit telecommunication during protests. “Rather than restoring calm, the authorities’ internet shutdown, apparent excessive use of force, and arrest of political opposition figures could make a volatile situation even worse,” Human Rights Watch said in a in a statement. “The government should take prompt steps to reverse these actions or risk sliding deeper into crisis.”