Ethiopia to release jailed politicians to 'foster national reconciliation'

Saturday, 13 Jan, 2018

The prime minister of Ethiopia on Wednesday announced that the government would close a notorious detention center and release some prisoners across the country, including some members of political parties.

The government of Ethiopia - Africa's second most populous country and an important United States ally in the fight against terrorism - has never acknowledged that it holds political prisoners, which would violate the country's Constitution. "And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum".

Some convicted prisoners who are now in prison for commiting a crime will be released and those whose cases held by prosecutors will be dropped, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in his official facebook page.

Rallies over land rights then broadened into demonstrations over political restrictions and perceived rights abuses, including the incarceration of Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba - leaders of the opposition group the Oromo Federalist Congress.

The unrest had triggered growing friction within the party.

Ethiopia has faced more than two years of anti-government protests with demonstrators calling for political and economic reforms, which prompted a crackdown and thousands of arrests.

"It was absolutely not clear what the prime minister was saying", said Yacob Hailemariam, a lawyer in Addis Ababa, the capital.

Activists and rights groups welcome the move but remain skeptical about whether the government will go through with it.

Hailemariam made his announcement after the ruling EPRDF coalition concluded a weeks-long meeting meant to thrash out policies to address grievances. Human Rights Watch had alleged that Maekelawi, a detention facility in Addis Ababa, was used to conduct illegal interrogation methods in 2013.