Ethiopia grants amnesty to prominent political detainees
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – The Ethiopian government on Friday announced an amnesty for some of the country’s most prominent political detainees, including opposition figure Jawar Mohammed and senior Tigray party officials, while Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was talking about reconciliation for Orthodox Christmas.
It is the most dramatic decision ever taken by the government after the deadly Tigray war entered a new phase in late December, when Tigray forces withdrew to their region amid a military offensive and that the Ethiopian forces have declared that they will not advance further there.
Ethiopian state broadcaster EBC named Jawar and Eskinder Nega, who were arrested in July 2020 following deadly unrest linked to the murder of popular artist of the Oromo ethnicity Hachalu Hundessa, as they granted amnesty. Eskinder, leader of the Balderas party, left a detention center on Friday evening.
But Tuli Bayis, an attorney for Jawar from Oromo’s Federalist Congress party and others, told The Associated Press that they refused to leave the facility because their release orders came late in the day.
“They have security risks, so they preferred to leave the detention center during the day,” Tuli said, adding that he was not sure why the order for their release came now. . “We heard it was an amnesty, that’s what we know so far.”
Ethiopia’s justice ministry said the amnesty for Jawar and Nega had been granted “for the next national dialogue to be successful and inclusive.” Ethiopian lawmakers approved a bill on December 29 to establish a national dialogue commission amid international pressure for negotiations to end the war.
The state broadcaster also named several senior officials of the ruling Tigray party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, as being amnestied and said they would be released soon. They include Sebhat Nega, Kidusan Nega, Abay Woldu, Abadi Zemu, Mulu Gebregziabher, and Kiros Hagos. They were arrested in late 2020 when government forces captured most of the Tigray region shortly after war broke out between Tigray forces and Ethiopian forces.
The justice ministry said TPLF detainees “have been granted amnesties on the basis of their age and state of health.”
Friday’s announcement came a day after the United States said its outgoing special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, had met with the Ethiopian prime minister to again demand a negotiated end to the war.