Calls grow for release of emergency law prisoners in Ethiopia

Thursday February 17 2022
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Under the state of emergency, estimated hundreds of mostly ethnic Tigrayans were detained across the country without being charged. PHOTO | FILE


The United States and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission have called for the release of all prisoners held under the state of emergency law lifted on Tuesday.

Washington said ending the measures imposed by the government last year was an important step to pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the bloody Tigray war.The US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the next step should be the release of all detainees to facilitate an inclusive and productive national dialogue to end the 15-monthlong ongoing conflict.“We urge that this [lifting of the state emergency] move be immediately followed by the release of all individuals arrested or detained without charge under the state of emergency,” he said. The US further reaffirmed it would continue to engage with all parties in a bid to advance an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, transparent investigations into all human rights abuses and violations, and a negotiated resolution to the conflict.The Ethiopian Parliament approved lifting the state of emergency on Tuesday, three weeks after the Cabinet decision to shorten the six-month measures, declared last November when rebel Tigray forces threatened to march to the capital Addis Ababa, on account of improving security conditions in the country.“Now we have reached a stage where threats can be neutralised through regular law enforcement mechanisms,” a statement from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office in January backing the Cabinet proposal read.Of the 312 MPs who attended the session on Tuesday, 63 opposed lifting the state of emergency, while 21 abstained from the vote.Under the state of emergency, estimated hundreds of mostly ethnic Tigrayans were detained across the country without being charged. They included journalists, bloggers, activists, academicians, opposition leaders and returnees from exile.Hours after lifting the state emergency, the government began releasing prisoners held at different facilities.At Summit-Cherkos makeshift prison facility in Addis, The EastAfrican witnessed the release of over 100 prisoners on Tuesday afternoon.One was a young man named Welday Kiros, who had spent over three months incarcerated.“I am pretty glad to be released today and be free again. I feel like I was born again,” said Mr Welday, a taxi driver. He hoped the authorities would also free inmates in detention facilities outside the capital.The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) noted that those freed were facing challenges reintegrating as some could not resume work due to a lack of proof of detention.The EHRC urged the government to expedite the issuance of necessary documents for those detained to enable them to return to work and resume a normal life.The state of emergency was imposed on November 2, 2021, after the rebel Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) forces, who are fighting the government and its allied forces, took control of several towns in Amhara outside the Tigray region and threatened to advance further south towards the capital Addis Ababa.The conflict has left an estimated 9.4 million people in northern Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.Millions are suffering from severe food shortages, acute malnutrition, and lack of treatment for the sick.Thousands of people have been killed, and about 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes since the war began.