Capitalizing on the government’s decision to release additional 746 prisoners including a renowned political commentator and former newspaper publisher, Eskinder Nega, and opposition politician, Andualem Arage, political activists are calling for further widening of the political space and better media environment in Ethiopia.
The latest commitment to release the prisoners came after a similar gesture from the government last month in releasing 500 politicians and political activists detained on various charges.
This shows the commitment and good gesture of the Ethiopian government, Girma Seifu, former Member of Parliament and opposition politician, said. Girma who was the lone opposition MP to win a seat in the 2010 national elections was also a member of the Unity for Democracy & Justice Party, the same party where Andulem was a member of.
“Their mere release is a good thing for their family and close relatives, but, if we are talk about allowing these people to exercise their rights as a politician, there is still a long way to go in terms of improving the political realm,” he said.
Asrat Abraham, also former member of UDJ, before the party’s internal leadership strife and mass desertion of its members, shares Girma’s opinion.
However, Asrat argues that the recent appointment of Samiya Zekaria as chairperson of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) and the release of prisoners is sending a mixed message. Girma as well criticized the appointment arguing that it will compromise the independence of the Board having a canceling effect on the recent release of the prisoners.
“This is puzzling. On one hand, the government is releasing prisoners; on the other hand, it is putting someone who is not politically independent to lead an institution that is supposed to run and act independently,” Girma said
From pardoned prisoners, 417 of them are already convicted and were serving jail time, while the rest are charged but their case was still ongoing.
Moreover, the list of the convicted prisoners, who have been pardoned, include members of the outlawed political parties – Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ginbot 7 (G7) – organizations that are designated as terrorists by the House of People’s Representatives.
From the total prisoners, 298 were convicted by the federal government and the rest by the Amhara Regional State.
Moreover, 278 of prisoners whose charges were dropped were at the federal level, while the rest were from Amhara, and Tigray regional states.
Commenting on the release of the prisoners, Amnesty International, a London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights and called for the release of more prisoners.
“All prisoners of conscience must be released immediately and unconditionally and compensated for the grave injustices done to them,” Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said.