ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian police investigators in Addis Ababa's main detention center have tortured political detainees and regularly mistreat people in custody to extract confessions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Friday.
The Ethiopian government, long seen by the West as a bulwark against militant Islam in the Horn of Africa, has denied frequent accusations that it uses state institutions to stifle dissent and silence political opposition.
In a report about conditions inside Addis Ababa's Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, known as Maekelawi, HRW said many former detainees were slapped, kicked and beaten with sticks and gun butts during investigations.
"Human Rights Watch found that investigators used coercive methods, including beatings and threats of violence, to compel detainees to sign statements and confessions," the group said in a statement, referring to events over the past three years.
Ethiopia intensified its clampdown on peaceful dissent after the disputed 2005 election, the New York-based HRW said.
The Addis Ababa government said it would not comment on the allegations until it has seen the full 70-page report.
Human Rights Watch said scores of opposition politicians, journalists, protest organizers and alleged supporters of ethnic insurgencies have been detained in Maekelawi.
Interviews with more than 35 former detainees and their relatives formed the basis of the report, HRW said.
Some Muslims have complained the government has interfered with religious affairs as it tries to stop what officials say is a rise in Islamist ideology. Ethiopia has a Christian majority but about a third of its population is Muslim.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn last week dismissed the criticism during an interview with Reuters.
"The government has nothing to do with religion. "The only thing we say is there is a red line for any religion in the country which goes beyond the constitutional provision."
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)