Ethiopia grants amnesty to high-profile 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.

“The key to lasting unity is dialogue,” the government said in a statement on the amnesty. “Ethiopia will make all sacrifices to this end.”

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.

The war in Africa’s second most populous country has exposed the deadly ethnic tensions posing the greatest challenge to the Abiy regime.

Ethiopian state broadcaster EBC named Jawar and opposition figure Eskinder Nega, who were arrested in July 2020 following deadly unrest linked to the murder of popular Oromo artist Hachalu Hundessa, as those who 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.

Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in the war that erupted in November 2020 between Ethiopian forces and the Tigray forces that once ruled the country. Abiy’s government, which had won the Nobel Peace Prize a year earlier, was then grappling with the challenge of various growing ethnic tensions in the wake of the prime minister’s sweeping political reforms.

These reforms eroded considerably with the war. The Ethiopian government has sought to restrict reporting on the conflict and has arrested some journalists, including an independent video accredited to the Associated Press, Amir Aman Kiyaro.

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