Ethiopia is moving towards democracy, the government has announced plans to release all its political prisoners. The African state is going to lose its notorious jail where prisoners were allegedly tortured, that is an attempt to “foster national reconciliation”.
Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn made an unexpected move when he has revealed on Wednesday that the authoritarian government is ready to release all political prisoners. In fact, more than two years of anti-regime protests across swaths of the country has been crowned by the success: the government is going to close its Maekelawi prison, which will be closed down and turned into a museum.
Ethiopia’s government has admitted to arresting tens of thousands of protesters during its crackdown on dissent. Many political prisoners released, but human rights activists say thousands of political prisoners, including prominent opposition leaders, remain behind bars.
“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released,”
PM Hailemariam said and added that the ‘notorious prison cell’ Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum. That is a historical move for the African state, undoubtedly.
How many political prisoners will be released in Ethiopia?
Mr Hailemariam who has never previously acknowledged the existence of political prisoners did not reveal how many people would be released.
At a press conference with the leaders of the three other parties that make up the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, Mr Hailemariam said:
“Politicians currently under prosecution and those previously sentenced will either have their cases annulled or be pardoned.”
He added that those released “would be allowed to participate in a national dialogue to “widen the political space”.
Awol Allo, an Ethiopian political analyst at Keele University in the UK, said it was premature to suggest the EPRDF, which has ruled the country since toppling the Derg dictatorship in 1991 and controls all the seats in parliament, was about to “usher in a more open, democratic society”.
“They have realised the political landscape is shifting beneath them fast and they have to accommodate the people’s demands if they want to survive,”
he said and added that they cannot rule as they have for the last 25 years.
‘But it’s not clear how much they will concede.’