Ethiopia vows to release political prisoners

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Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday announced plans to release all political prisoners and close Maekelawi, one of the country’s most notorious detention centres.

PM Hailemariam Desalegn said the move will “widen the democratic space for all” in a surprise move that marks the first time Ethiopia has admitted to holding political prisoners.

Ethiopia to release political prisoners

“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will either have their cases annulled or be pardoned,” Desalegn said during a press conference on Wednesday. “And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum,” he added.

The announcement comes after years of violent protests that began in November 2015. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands jailed in the response by security forces. The protests initially started over government plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa into the Oromia region but spread across the country after security forces responded with brutality to those early demonstrations.

The growing dissent resulted in a 10-month state of emergency that was only lifted in August.

Rights groups welcome announcement

Numerous rights groups have welcomed the news that Ethiopia’s political prisoners will soon be released.

“Today’s announcement is quite significant,” said Human Rights Watch’s Felix Horne. “This could hopefully indicate a turning point on how the state deals with dissenting voices.”

However, Horne echoes the surprise of many other activists over Ethiopia’s sudden shift in stance.

“It’s very surprising,” he said. “The government has zero tolerance for dissenting voices and has often used the anti-terrorism law to shut down legitimate expressions of political dissent.”

Featured image: By Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia – Guard Tower, Shashamane Prison, Ethiopia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29766203

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.