Ethiopia pardons 746 prisoners, including journalist, dissident

Most were detained for alleged involvement in mass protests that broke out three years ago.

Thousands of Ethiopian opposition activists demonstrate in Addis Ababa on June 2, 2013. The country will release 746 prisoners, including a journalist and a senior opposition official who were jailed for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

IN SUMMARY

  • The decision follows a raft of reforms announced by the government to try to reduce tension in the country.
  • Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January.
  • Ethiopia is frequently rebuked by rights groups for cracking down on dissent under the guise of national security concerns.

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Ethiopia will release 746 more prisoners, including a journalist and a senior opposition official who were jailed for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, the attorney general’s office said on Thursday.

The decision follows a raft of reforms announced by the government to try to reduce tension in the country, which has been hit by unrest since 2015.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January. Most were detained for alleged involvement in mass protests that broke out three years ago in its Oromiya and Amhara regions over accusations of land grabbing and political marginalisation.

On Thursday, the Federal Attorney General’s Office published a list of 746 inmates for pardon, including the journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition politician Andualem Arage.

The names have been forwarded to President Mulatu Teshome, who has the power to grant their freedom, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation said.

Crackdown

Ethiopia - sandwiched between war-torn South Sudan and Somalia - is frequently rebuked by rights groups for cracking down on dissent under the guise of national security concerns.

The government rejects the accusations.

Since 2015, hundreds died in violence in the country’s largest province Oromiya - and to a lesser extent its Amhara region - as protests broadened into demonstrations against political restrictions and perceived rights abuses.

Ethiopia has also been hit in the past months by a spate of ethnic clashes that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Concerns

With a population of 100 million, the unrest has triggered concerns over implications on regional stability and amongst investors who have been looking to tap into one of the continent’s fastest growing economies.

Blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega was arrested in 2011 and accused of trying to incite violence with a series of online articles. He was jailed for 18 years.

In the same case, Andualem Arage from the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party was jailed for life.

Both were among a group of 20 people on trial. Among the others were five other exiled journalists who were sentenced in absentia to between 15 years to life.

It was not immediately clear if the remaining members of that group were being pardoned.

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