Ethiopia Announces Release of 2, 345 Oromia Prisoners
Nearly a week after release of political prisoners, the government of Ethiopia on Friday announced the release of more 2,345 Oromia prisoners.
Although the North African country denied holding political prisoners, Aljazera reports that the released prisoners were sent to jail following the 2015 and 2016 protests in the country’s Oromia region.
The Omoria protesters complained of abuse and marginalization by the Ethiopian government.
Addisu Arega Kitessa, a government spokesman on Oromia affairs, said prisoners have been pardoned and would be released within “a few days”, in a statement posted to social media on Friday.
News of the pardon came a week after the government released Oromo opposition leader Merera Gudina, and 22 others, which rights groups say were political prisoners.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn had announced that political prisoners would be released “to build a national consensus and to widen the democratic space”.
Gudina was arrested in 2016, after he criticised the government’s human rights records and the country’s political situation.
Security forces have arrested tens of thousands of people and killed more than 900 protesters since the protests by the country’s Oromo people began.
Anger over allegations of land grabs widened into protests over political restrictions and rights abuses, and spread to the northern Amhara region, prompting the government to impose a state of emergency that was only lifted in April 2017.
Ethiopia had never acknowledged that it detains political prisoners.
Desalegn, instead said in Amharic that the government would review the cases of certain individuals affiliated with political parties, including party leaders, who have been charged with crimes. He also said that, in some cases, charges would be dropped or people would be released or pardoned, depending on investigation results.
Earlier reports say following political intolerance and clamp-down on opposition elements, political prisoners in Ethiopia have increased. There are more than a thousand opposition members, journalists and social activists who have been in detention since 2014.
Amnesty International welcomed Mr Hailemariam’s announcement, saying it could signal “the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia” – although warned the closure of Maekelawi detention centre should not be used to “whitewash” the “horrifying” events which took place under its roof.
Rights groups have previously accused the government of using anti-terrorism laws to jail its critics.
“Those held in jails across the country include opposition activists from the Amhara and Oromia regions, which were at the centre of anti-government protests in 2015 and 2016, as well as the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region, and journalists who have criticised the government” says BBC Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Igunza.