Ethiopia's PM Abiy Ahmed releases high-profile political prisoners


ADDIS ABABA - A few days after calling for national reconciliation, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ordered the release of his fierce critics, most of them from his Oromia backyard, who questioned the assassination of popular musician Hachalu Hundesa.

The members of the Oromo Federalist Congress [OFC] were arrested after staging protests over Hundesa's assassination. Protests locked Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, leading to the crackdown.

Some of those arrested included media entrepreneur Jawar Mohammad, Bekele Gerba, Dejene Tafa, Hamza Borana, and many others who were arrested from the premises of Oromia Cultural Center in Addis Abeba on June 30, 2020, a day after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa.

Although some were released eventually, a total of 35 people, including the children of Bekele Gerba were arrested on that day. The government has remained mum over the arrest until Friday when the government opted to release them.

Before their release, they were subjected to a pre-trial hearing as the prosecutor established charges against 20 defendants in Jawar Mohammed’s file in September 2020. The charges include ten counts in violation of Proclamation No. 1176 /2012 on Terrorism Prevention and Control; Telecom Fraud Proclamation No. 761/2004 and the Arms Management and Control Proclamation No. 1177/2012, The Addis Ababa Standard reports.

The trial of the defendants on Jawar Mohammed’s file was one of the most highly anticipated hearings featuring symbolic resistances by supporters, arrests, and attacks on families, massive social media campaigns, refusal to appear by the defendants.

In February last year, protests broke out in different parts of Oromia regional state. Protestors who took to the streets in Ambo and other places raised several demands, including the release of Oromo politicians, a resident of the city told Addis standard then.

Many students were arrested and beaten by police according to eyewitnesses. In January 2020 the defendants refused to proceed with the hearing protesting with hunger strike the arrest of about 80 of their supporters from the premises of Federal High Court, Lideta branch.

On February 05, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said that “very close supervision is required to prevent any grave threat to their health and life and that reasonably justified demands of the prisoners must be addressed.”

He added that “during visits to prisons or attending court hearings visitors must be treated properly.” Samantha Power, USAID administrator, and representative Ilhan Omar also voiced their concerns over the deteriorating health conditions of the prisoners, who were on hunger strike and their treatment by the government.

The release of the defendants on Jawar Mohammed’s file comes at the heels of the release of Eskinder Nega, founder of the opposition Balderas for Genuine Democracy, and the defendants on his file who were facing terrorism charges, and Five out of 20 senior TDF leaders who were accused of organizing an illegal group to overthrow the constitutional order.

In his Christmas [Gena] message, Abiy Ahmed insisted on national reconciliation as the country battles with a series of internal crises. The Tigray conflict has eroded confidence in the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“It will enable us to maintain our unity, it’s a given that Ethiopia will benefit from reconciliation,” the PM’s message read. In a separate message, the Prime Minister said that pledged to bring about transitional justice to hold those who committed crimes accountable.


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