ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - A "restrictive" law in Ethiopia is severely crippling rights groups, according to an Amnesty International report.
The rights watchdog said the law, which it called "vaguely worded," severely restricts funding to local organizations and allows for overreaching government interference.
"The government has implemented a law which has crippled human rights work in Ethiopia," said Amnesty's deputy Africa director, Michelle Kagari, in a statement, released on Monday.
"The result is that people in the country have less access to independent human rights assistance," she added.
The 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) limits the amount of funding local groups can accept from foreign sources to 10 percent, which Amnesty said is forcing rights organisations to cut programs and close offices. The group said that $1 million worth of assets from two leading rights groups has already been frozen under the legislation.
The CSP also gives the government the authority to appoint the director and board members of local agencies and the power to allocate their budgets, according to the legislation.
Government spokesman Bereket Simon rejected the charge from Amnesty, calling it a "smear campaign," and insisted the law exists to support local organisations.
"The law is not intended to shut civic society. On the contrary, it enables those who can operate within the law to function," he told AFP.
But Amnesty said the act severely limits "legitimate criticism" in the country.
"The claim of the Ethiopian government that they want to protect human rights cannot be taken seriously while this law continues to be implemented," Kagari added, calling on the government to amend the law.
Bereket said the government has no plans to revise the law.
"This is a legal act which is intended to govern Ethiopia so why should we let Amnesty International interfere in internal conducts?" he said.
Rights groups have criticised Ethiopia for using the anti-terrorism legislation to stifle peaceful dissent and freedom of expression. Close to 200 opposition members and journalists were jailed under the disputed legislation in 2011.