16 January 2018

Ethiopia to Free 528 People Arrested During Anti-Government Protests

Addis Ababa — Ethiopia's top prosecutor said Monday that charges against 528 prisoners detained in connection with anti-government protests would be dropped, and the inmates would be released on Wednesday.

General Prosecutor Getachew Ambaye indicated that individuals already convicted and sentenced in connection with the protests were not among those set for release.

Most of the prisoners were arrested and charged with terrorism during anti-government demonstrations that started in the Oromia region in late 2015 and spread to other parts of the country.

Last week, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the government would release an unspecified number of prisoners, although initial reports that he had promised to release "political prisoners" were retracted. According to human rights groups, an estimated four thousand political prisoners currently are behind bars in Ethiopia.

Getachew told reporters Monday that the decision to free the 528 prisoners was made in accordance with a decision by the ruling EPRDF coalition to form a "justice affairs task force."

"The task force has laid out short-, medium- and long-term plans in order to improve the justice system," Getachew said, "and today's decision to terminate charges filed against those who were suspected of participating in the last year's uprising and their release came per the short-term plan of action."

Getachew said authorities will set free 115 suspects at the federal level along with 361 suspects in the Dilla district and 52 in the Konso district. Both districts are in Ethiopia's Southern regional state.

The prosecutor said conditions for their release included no involvement in killings, physical harm to others, or attacks on economic institutions or infrastructure.

A media outlet close to the ruling party reported Monday that opposition leaders Merera Gudina and Rufael Disasa were among those set to be released.

Merera Gudina, who is a leader of one of the largest opposition parties in the country, Oromo Federalist Congress, OFC, was detained more than a year ago on arrival at the airport after attending meetings in Brussels with the European Parliament and its leaders, where he testified about the human rights and political situations in Ethiopia.

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