More than 500 Ethiopian prisoners awaiting trial will be released on Wednesday, as promised by the government on state radio Fana on Monday. The fulfillment of a promise made just two weeks ago.
The release of the president of the Oromo Federalist Congress ( OFC ), Merera Gudina, in detention since 2016, was among the main demands for protests Oromo, the main ethnic group of the country.
Merera was arrested in 2016 after criticizing the state of emergency in Ethiopia, which largely ended the largest anti-government protests since 1991. The crackdown on the protests, which had mainly affected Oromo and Amhara, had made hundreds of deaths.
The OFC president is one of 528 prisoners to be released Wednesday. Merera is charged with inciting riots and preparing a coup, while most other released prisoners are accused of ethnic violence on the border between the Oromo and Somali regions (south).
The charges against these prisoners, who were waiting for a trial, will be dropped, and “the suspects will be released Wednesday after receiving training” Monday and Tuesday, said Attorney General, Getachew Ambaye, cited on the website of state radio Fana.
The nature of the “training” has not been specified. However, in the past, Ethiopia has regularly forced prisoners to follow pro-government “education” programs prior to their release.
Beyene Petros, deputy chairman of the Medrek coalition, of which OFC is a part, called the announcement of Merera’s release a “positive gesture”, but said it did not mark a change. attitude on the part of the government towards dissidents. “There is no guarantee that those released today will not be imprisoned again tomorrow,” he told AFP .
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn promised on 3 January to release a number of politicians.
The decision was made when fractures recently appeared in the ruling coalition, including the resignation of two of its senior officials, including the Speaker of the National Assembly, Abadula Gemeda, an Oromo, who are all two then went back on their decision.
On December 3, Mr. Desalegn gave no indication of the number of people concerned by these releases. He had not said whether the measure would extend to the thousands of people considered as political prisoners by human rights groups and opponents.