Ethiopia: Political prisoners could be released as early as Friday

ESAT News (January 4, 2017)

Media close to the regime in Addis Ababa reported that some political prisoners could be released as early as Friday or Saturday.

The Reporter newspaper quoted its sources as saying that the office of the President has requested prison administration and the prosecutor general to provide the list of political prisoners.

Aerial view of “Maekelawi” compound, the main federal police investigation center, in Central Addis Ababa, on February 18, 2013. © DigitalGlobe 2013; Source Google Earth

In a surprise move by a regime known for torturing political prisoners and denying holding any, the Prime Minister on Wednesday said “some members of political parties and other individuals would be released to widen the political and democratic space.”

The announcement was the first acknowledgment by a regime that had come under harsh criticism by international watchdogs for jailing and torturing opponents.

Fisseha Tekle, Ethiopia Researcher at Amnesty International, said most prisoners have been detained “solely for peacefully exercising their human rights, and should never have been in jail in the first place.”

Tekle called on the regime to immediately and unconditionally releasing political prisoners. “The authorities should also repeal or substantially amend the repressive laws under which they were imprisoned, including the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.”

Regarding Maekelawi, a detention centre that the prime minister said would be closed and turned into a “museum” Tekle said “the closure must not be used to whitewash the horrifying events that have taken place there. For years, Maekelawi has essentially functioned as a torture chamber, used by the Ethiopian authorities to brutally interrogate anybody who dares to dissent including peaceful protesters, journalists and opposition figures.”

Felix Horne of the Human rights Watch wrote: “Federal police investigators have long used Maekelawi to interrogate Ethiopia’s most prominent political prisoners. As Human Rights Watch documented, torture and mistreatment are major problems there and across Ethiopia’s detention sites. While Maekelawi’s announced closure is good news, it will mean nothing if prisoners are simply relocated to another facility to face the same abuses. The government should send a message to security officials countrywide that torture and other ill-treatment is prohibited and will be punished. And it can start by holding to account those responsible for torture at Maekelawi.”