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Ethiopia to release all political prisoners, says prime minister

04:10 Thu Jan 04, 2018


Ethiopia to release all political prisoners, says prime minister

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Report by: BBC

In a surprise move, Ethiopia’s prime minister has announced the release of all political prisoners and the closure of a notorious detention centre, allegedly used as a torture chamber.

Hailemariam Desalegn told a press conference the move was designed to allow political dialogue.

But it is unclear exactly who will be released – or when it will take place.

Ethiopia, a staunch ally of the West, is accused by rights groups of using mass arrests to stifle opposition.

Amnesty International welcomed Mr Hailemariam’s announcement, saying it could signal “the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia” – although warned the closure of Maekelawi detention centre should not be used to “whitewash” the “horrifying” events which took place under its roof.

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This is a landmark moment for the country – not least because it is the first time the government has even admitted to having any political prisoners, previously describing them as “criminals”, BBC Ethiopia correspondent Emmanuel Igunza says.

Rights groups have accused the government of using anti-terrorism laws to jail its critics.

Who are the political prisoners?
Those held in jails across the country include opposition activists from the Amhara and Oromia regions, which were at the centre of anti-government protests in 2015 and 2016, as well as the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region, and journalists who have criticised the government.

It is difficult to know exactly how many “political prisoners” there are, but our correspondent estimates there are about 1,000 held under the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation, including high profile leaders from the opposition.

However, there are another 5,000 cases still pending, made up of those arrested after a state of emergency was declared in October 2016, he adds.



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