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Jailed opposition leader Merera Gudina, who was freed after more than a year in detention, addresses journalists on Wednesday / Photo: Screenshot Ethiopian Television

UK, Germany praise Ethiopia for releasing political prisoners, urge further reforms

The United Kingdom and Germany have praised the Ethiopian government for releasing political prisoners, charging Addis Ababa to follow through with its promises on political reforms and opening up the democratic space.

Their comments came in the wake of the release of over 500 politician prisoners on Wednesday as promised by government earlier this month. Among those freed is Prof Merera Gudina, leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), a political party representing the Oromo people. The organization is opposed to the ruling coalition Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). He has been described as Ethiopia’s “leading opposition politician”.

Both German and British embassies in Addis Ababa also stressed the need to open up the political space and allow people to participate in the governance process. The EPRDF has been under pressure to respect rights of political opposition, of journalists critical of the regime and rights activists.

Opposition supporters welcoming their freed leaders on Wednesday / Photo: Screenshot Aljazeera

 

“The German Embassy in Addis Ababa welcomes the release of 115 detainees, including Dr Merera Gudina, in Addis Ababa. We congratulate the Ethiopian government on this important step, which contributes to widening the political space in Ethiopia,” the German statement said. 

“The Embassy encourages further steps to be taken, in order to give all political forces a voice in Ethiopia and to find a sustainable solution to the current tensions in the country.”

The United States has also officially commented on the release of politician prisoners and the promise to close a prison facility notorious for torture.

“We are encouraged by the Ethiopian Government’s decision to drop charges and pardon detainees, including political prisoners, as a tangible step towards its stated goal of widening political space for all Ethiopians,” the US government said in a statement.

A number of journalists are still 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

 

Opposition parties and rights groups have been demanding for the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia for years. Analysts believe that local and international pressure on Addis Ababa is bearing fruit as the government had always maintained that there were no political prisoners in the country.

There’re still many notable politicians and journalists in detention. Amnesty International is calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience and the implementation of wide-ranging political reforms, including rescinding draconian laws, to create space for the unfettered exercise of political rights in the country.

Adira Kallo

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