Ethiopia Denies Holding Political Prisoners, Restates Pardon for Opposition Members
Following reports on the media that Ethiopia government was considering releasing about 1000 political prisoners, Ethiopia has reacted, denying holding political prisoners.
The government however says it will consider pardoning or dropping charges against some members of opposition political parties accused of crimes.
Ethiopia had never acknowledged that it detains political prisoners, and the possibility of a sweeping pardon drew reactions from activists, human rights groups and other governments.
VoA news reported that in a written statement, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, said, “Ethiopia has finally acknowledged that it holds political prisoners. Now, the government should quickly follow through on its commitments to release them.”
The Prime Minister, Hailemariam 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.
Ealier 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.
But in a “surprise move, Ethiopia prime minister announced the release of political prisoners and the closure of a notorious detention centre, allegedly used as a torture chamber”, said BBC.
Hailemariam Desalegn was reported to have told a press conference the move was designed to allow political dialogue.
It was unclear exactly who would be released – or when it will take place.
Ethiopia, a staunch ally of the West, is accused by rights groups of using mass arrests to stifle opposition.
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.
The prisoners also include British citizen Andargachew Tsege, who was seized in 2014 when changing planes in Yemen and forced to go to Ethiopia, where he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his political activities against the state.
It is difficult to know exactly how many “political prisoners” there are, but our correspondent estimates there are about 1,000 held under the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation, including high profile leaders from the opposition.
However, there are another 5,000 cases still pending, made up of those arrested after a state of emergency was declared in October 2016, he adds.