AU lauds prisoner amnesty
- PM statement sparks controversy
African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat Thursday welcomed the announcement made the previous day by Hailemariam Dessalegn, chairman of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), to pardon or suspend ongoing judicial proceedings against members of political parties and certain other individuals.
Hailemariam said that some incarcerated politicians would be freed and the notorious detention center, popularly known as Maekelawi, will be shut down.
The AUC chairperson expressed in a statement hope that the steps initiated by the Ethiopian government would foster the creation of a conducive atmosphere for the consolidation of the impressive socio-economic gains Ethiopia had registered over the decades.
Additionally, these steps would enhance the country’s stability, which is of paramount importance for the immediate region and Africa as a whole, the chairperson said, and called on all Ethiopians, irrespective of their political affiliation, to embrace and sustain the spirit of forgiveness and unity in the best interest of their country.
Flanked by chairpersons of the other three constituent parties of the EPRDF coalition, Hailemariam announced the move, saying: “Some politicians who are imprisoned and those that are facing prosecution and are already in detention will be released.”
Commending the move, Mahamat said it was an important and far-sighted decision, asserting that the amnesty would help foster national consensus and widen the democratic space.
The PM’s groundbreaking announcement marks the first time Addis Ababa went on record acknowledging the presence of political prisoners.
Though the US Embassy in Addis Ababa has not issued an official statement, The Reporter has learnt that the embassy is following the development closely.
Approached for his comments by The Reporter, embassy spokesperson Nick Barnet in an SMS message replied, “We have seen the announcement of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn concerning the release of some prisoners and persons under investigation. We look forward to learning additional details in the coming days”.
Following controversy sparked off by the term political prisoners, the PM office attempted to downplay the announcement.
Spokesman Zadig Abraha insisted that the country had no political prisoners, only that “some members of political parties and other individuals that have allegedly been suspected of committing crimes and those convicted will be pardoned or their charges vacated after judicial review.”
It remains unclear how many political prisoners are being held in the country or when they would be released.
Taking issue with the PM’s statement, some questioned the grounds on which political party leaders decide the release of prisoners.
Hailemariam initially issued the statement in his capacity as chairperson of the ruling party, but leaders of political parties have no legal standing to decide on the fate of prisoners.