Wednesday 19 December 2018

Ethiopia to release all political prisoners and close notorious jail

The move is part of a bid to
The move is part of a bid to "widen the democratic space for all", the PM said

Ethiopia's leader has announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp in what he calls an effort to "widen the democratic space for all".

Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn's surprise comments came after anti-government protests engulfed much of the Oromia and Amhara regions in recent months, affecting businesses and transport networks.

Mr Hailemariam said: "Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released.

"And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum."

Ethiopians were quick to respond on social media.

"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 leaders in Ethiopia have been calling for the release of political prisoners, claiming they were arrested on bogus 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.

Months of protests demanding wider freedoms began in late 2015 and led to hundreds of reported deaths and tens of thousands of arrests, disrupting one of Africa's fastest-growing economies. The protests also caused the displacement of an estimated one million people.

Amnesty International said: "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."

Press Association

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