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Ethiopia says it will free all political prisoners

Ethiopia’s leader has announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp, in a surprise move he described as an effort to “widen the democratic space for all”. It is

Ethiopia’s leader has announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp, in a surprise move he described as an effort to “widen the democratic space for all”. It is the first time the government has acknowledged that it holds political prisoners.

The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn’s comments came after anti-government protests in recent months engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions, bringing many businesses, universities and transport networks to a standstill. The sometimes deadly protests, the most serious since the current government came to power in 1991, spread into other parts of the east African country, leading to a state of emergency that lasted months but has since been lifted.

“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released,” Hailemariam said. “And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum.”

It was not immediately clear how many political prisoners were being held across the country, which is a close US security ally.

Ethiopians were quick to respond, even with social media sites currently blocked.

“I’m writing you this struggling with my tears,” wrote renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu. “All these pledges need to be implemented immediately.”

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for the release of political prisoners, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and were being punished for their points of view. Ethiopia’s government has long been accused of arresting critical journalists and opposition leaders.

Some of the prominent politicians currently in custody include opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina. A number of journalists also remain in detention.

Protests demanding wider freedoms began in late 2015 and led to hundreds of reported deaths and tens of thousands of arrests while disrupting one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.

“The crackdown on the political opposition saw mass arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association,” the rights group Amnesty International has said.





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  • AHMED SALEH !!! January 3, 2018

    I wish our people voiced in unison on defense Eritreans political prisoners to send a message for our
    corrupted officials the same way as Ethiopians reaction against oppressive system ,
    Kab Anbesa nab begiE tekeyrka timewet
    Kab begiE nab Anbesa tekeyrka mumat kibri alewo
    We heard unspeakable horrifying stories happened to our people inside and outside the country .
    But unfortunately the silent majority have been bent on closing their eyes and turning a deaf ear
    for wrongful deeds against their young and old age fellows . Time to wake-up from unrealistic
    dream that took more than 25 years with nothing to show except empty promise after promises .

  • Yilma garu January 3, 2018

    wel.wel..welll it is finally happening but still we need to be very cautious about this for it could be tricky when they say will free all…let us wait and see folks..patience…

  • Tesfai January 4, 2018

    Will Issaias Afeworki and the Hgdefites dare to release all its political prisoners, including all those in Era Ero and the old Cazermo Mussolinni, AKA, Carcelli?
    Will all the prisoners who died under Ghedli and Sawra by Jebha and Shaebia be acknowledged and recognized with full apology by their criminal leaders.
    At least the current Ethiopian leadership has the courage to admit its political prisoners and wishes to free them.

  • Kalighe January 4, 2018

    The is a growing pressure on Weyane by Amhara and Oromo opposition groups to remove them from power. They are accused of controlling the Ethiopian State and fueling ethnic conflict in the country to remain in power. The Weyane are not stupid like Higdef, they are working very hard to persuade the minorities in the country that they are not monopolizing power and giving every group (killil) something they never had under previous regimes. But the opposition is really giving them hard time. The new Weyane leadership is also trying to build consensus within Tigray on certain issues like giving more power to other groups and giving back Badme to Eritrea.
    But even within Tigray they are facing problems because certain regions are accusing them of being regionalists (the ruling elite is from Adwa and Shire Enda Sellasie).
    Releasing prisoners comes as part of showing the Ethiopian public that they are not torturing prisoners and they are not oppressing the Amhara and Oromo as the opposition claims.

    • amanuel January 4, 2018

      Releasing political prisoners is the right thing to do while punishing any crime committed by any group for any reason. It is crime to lock any citizen b/s they have d/t view, opinion or believe. That can happen in eritrea if we unite and apply max. Pressure.

  • Gezae January 4, 2018

    I am very happy with the deccission for clossing the Maekelawi or Central prison
    As we all know this prison was built in heart of the Capital City Addis Abeba by Italians. But it was during Mengustu Hailemariam 17-year rule between 1974 and 1991and then by the Meles -Hailemariam Dessalegne reign that it gained its current reputation. I anticipate in Central thousands of political dissidents were reported to have been humiliated, tortured, and summarily executed there.
    To my brief obsevation the prison was constructed in the style of where prisoners in their cells could be constantly watched by guards. And it’s utterly unfair to call it a prison. In a prison you have basic rights, but in Central/MAEKELAWI you have nothing but only death, torture, horror, and madness . You’re only left with fear and horror. I spent twenty nine days there, in 1998, accused of opposing the deportation of the Eritreans and the nonsense war between the two sisterly countries. In my stay for almost a month detainees talk about being humiliated, whipped, and beaten throughout their time there. Many were executed or died under torture and the lucky ones spent three or four years in prison. Certainly, the bloody massacre that took place within Central’s is ingrained in Ethiopia’s consciousness. Any how no-one knows exactly how many were killed because their bodies were dumped in a mass grave outside the prison.
    So while I was there on death watch prison cell former inmates often talk about their first hours at Central and the so-called “reception party” – an initial session of torture that prisoners endured upon arrival. “When death is a daily occurrence, lurking in torture, random beatings, eye-gouging, broken limbs and crushed fingers… wouldn’t you welcome the merciful release of a bullet?” . Inmates would cry out for medical help for dying prisoners. The guards’ answer was always the same: “Only call us to collect bodies.” told me many of the prisoners.
    Certainly, central is a kingdom of death and madness. The fact that such place existed is a shame, not only on Ethiopians, but on all humanity,”But the closure of this building came as a shock for me and many who wanted it to stand as a witness to years of brutality. Thus the decission of its closure is a historic, mass imprisonment hurts the entire economy and the families who are without family members at home. Poorer communities and families suffer. Kids grow up without parents. Over half of male prisoners are fathers; many female inmates are mothers. Without doubt, change is needed, as a matter of political correctness; but it is very hard for me to give any alternatives in a country like Ethiopia..

    • k.tewolde January 5, 2018

      Gezae, for somebody who endured and witnessed this brutality, the expectation is for you to be a lifetime champion of human right,dignity and rule of law regardless who is violating it Can you picture from wherever you are friend the same scenario you described above play out now in over 300 prisons and underground dungeons in our homeland on our innocent brothers and sisters,how do you feel? or you forgot the feeling at all, or it is ok as long as someone with the same name who speaks the same dialect and keeping your little property there safe is doing it? This is the the epitome of hypocrisy and opportunism.

  • amanuel January 5, 2018

    The release of polliitical prisoners and underage relatives of political figures, religious leaders and all innocent eritreans is not going to happen b/s we do not have leaders but thugs. That is the main d/c b/n ethhiopia and us. We have thugs, they have leaders.