Ethiopia to release all political prisoners, prime minister says

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has announced plans to close a notorious prison camp and release political prisoners held there. He described the move as an effort to “foster national reconciliation.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters on Wednesday that charges against all political prisoners would be dropped in a bid to “create a national consensus and widen the democratic space for all.”

“Politicians currently under prosecution and those previously sentenced will either have their cases annulled or be pardoned,” he said.

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

The surprise announcement came after recent anti-government protests in the troubled Oromia and Amhara regions brought business and transport networks to a standstill. Hundreds were killed in the unrest, leading to a 10-month state of emergency that was lifted in August.

It is not clear how many political prisoners are currently being held across the East African country.

The United Nations and rights groups have accused the Ethiopian government of locking up critical journalists and politicians for expressing dissenting views. Among the country’s jailed politicians are opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina.

Renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu celebrated the prime minister’s comments.

“I’m writing you this struggling with my tears,” he wrote. “All these pledges need to be implemented immediately.”

The deadly protests began in late 2015 and led to tens of thousands of arrests and the displacement of some 1 million people.

“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,” rights group Amnesty International has said.

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