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A number of journalists are in detention, including Eskinder Nega, journalist and blogger - imprisoned since 2011 after criticising his country's abuse of anti-terror laws to silence the press. He was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in jail / Photo: TDJ

Ethiopia to free political prisoners and close notorious prison

The Ethiopian government will drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp in a bid to ‘widen the democratic space for all.’

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says the move to release all political prisoners is critical for national dialogue.

The unprecedented pardon is expected to apply to both convicted political prisoners and those currently facing court cases.

Desalegn made the announcement after days of consultations within the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.

Addressing a joint press briefing with other chairpersons of the EPRDF’s member parties, Desalegn said the Mae’kelawi prison would be converted into a museum, and added that a new centre has been established to replace Ma’ekelawi based on the national parliament’s guidelines on human rights and international standards.

Thousands of people have been detained since deadly anti-government protests erupted in the country in 2015. A state of emergency, imposed in October 2016 and lifted in August 2017, failed to calm the protesters, who have been calling for a national dialogue and the release of political prisoners.

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had also 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.

Some of the prominent politicians currently in custody include opposition leaders Bekele Gerba and Merara Gudina. A number of journalists also remain in detention, including Eskinder Nega, journalist and blogger – imprisoned since 2011 after criticising his country’s abuse of anti-terror laws to silence the press. He was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in jail

Adira Kallo with agencies

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