In a landmark decision that comes with the ongoing reforms, the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) on Thursday unanimously voted on a motion to resend the designation of three political groups – the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and [Patriotic] Ginbot 7 from its “terrorists list”.
The resolution, in fact was announced last week by the Office of the Prime Minister shortly after the Council of Ministers voted and sent it for legislators approval.
The three organizations were among the five designated ‘terrorist’ groups back in 2010 in line with the much controversial bill dubbed the Anti-terrorism Proclamation (Proc. 652/2009) while the groups called themselves as ‘freedom fighters’.
Before voting for the resolution, several MPs welcomed the government’s decision to give a chance to the group in order to engage in a peaceful political activity. Nevertheless, some lawmaker’s raised questions as to what guarantees and confirmations the government has so far received from the armed groups that led to the decision of ‘removal’ from the ‘terrorist list’.
Responding to MPs questions, Birhanu Tsegaye, Attorney General, first explained that these organizations need legal support that gives them a guarantee to participate freely at home.
“Unless we remove these organizations’ name from the terrorist list, neither their leaders nor members can do anything in the country. Hence, as stipulated in the provisions of the existing law; he said adding, once designated as ‘terrorists’ they could not have legitimate right to participate as a political organization.”
“Most of the organizations leaders have told us that they want to return home and peacefully engage in the process. Even some have already begun returning home. That is why we came to the decision [removing their name from the list],” Attorney General told the house.
Fitsum Arega, Chief of Staff at the Office of the PM twitted last week saying “The decision will encourage groups to use peaceful political discourse to achieve political ends.”
The legislators’ approval has come three months after the PM made an extra-ordinary remark during his inaugural speech to them and the nation on April 2.
On that historical day, Abiy pledged his promise to bring a conducive atmosphere for opposition groups whose roles and participations in the country’s politics and democratization process have been limited due to the anti-terrorism legislation.
Challenged by one of the legislators on the constitutionalism of releasing prisoners, especially those jailed for corruption and terrorism, the PM simply said, “Jailing and torturing, which we did, are not constitutional either.”
Since the parliament enacted the controversial proclamation in 2009, several people – including prominent leaders such as Andargachew Tsige of Ginbot 7 (second in command) — were arrested and convicted to long-term imprisonment.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is an ethnic based group that has been fighting for the secession of the Ethiopian Somali region.
Similarly, OLF was once part of the fight against the Marxist Derg regime, but upon victoriously taking Addis Ababa, they were sidelined by the newly formed EPRDF regime in Ethiopia. They have been fighting for the secession of the Oromo region ever since.
In 2015, the ONLF and the OLF formed an alliance with other parties looking to advocate for a democratic renewal of Ethiopia: the Peoples’ Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (PAFD).
Ginbot 7 an armed rebel group based in Eritrea with some affiliations in Yemen has a widespread support from the Ethiopian diaspora.
It is to be recalled that British national, Andargachew Tsige – a senior member of Ginbot 7 – was also released from the notorious Kality Correctional Center a month ago.
Similarly, the Ethiopian government also released Abdikarim Muse Qalbi Dhagah, a senior ONLF military commander that was transferred to Ethiopia from a Somali jail.
Of the five groups placed on Ethiopia’s terror list in 2011, Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab (Somalia based) remain to be on the list.
Besides the top officials of armed groups, charges were also dropped against opposition media groups such as ESAT (Ethiopian Satellite Television) and OMN (Oromo Media Network).
OMN has already opened an office in Ethiopia with plans to continue their operations locally.