"Remarkable progress": Ethiopian Government frees "political prisoners" for the first time

Mass amnesty in Ethiopia

This Tuesday – for the first time – there will officially be political prisoners among the more than 1,900 detainees who are supposed to be released on occasion of the New Year celebrations in Ethiopia, which is influenced by Orthodoxy. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen approved the decision of the government in Addis Ababa to be a "remarkable progress". "Until now, it was always denied that there are any political prisoners in Ethiopia," stated the STP's Africa-consultant, Ulrich Delius. "Now there is hope for hundreds of prisoners of conscience to be respected and also a chance to put an end to the intolerable oppression of any opposition movement in Ethiopia. We now urge the Ethiopian government to immediately release all political prisoners to prove that the country is on its way to a democratic renewal after the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi."

On Monday, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice had announced that 1,923 prisoners – including political prisoners such as two Swedish, but also some Ethiopian journalists – are supposed to be set free on occasion of the annual mass amnesty on September 11, to celebrate the New Year. In Ethiopian prisons, there are a lot of members of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, the Oromo, who claim to have been suppressed for decades. Since 2006, hundreds of Oromo students and school pupils were arrested for political reasons, but also farmers, teachers, writers, singers and managers of various companies were arrested solely based on their ethnic background. They were generally accused of supporting the Oromo liberation movement OLF, which fought the regime of Meles Zenawi by force of arms.

Furthermore, anyone who turned against the arbitrariness and the human rights abuses of the regime of Meles Zenawi was mercilessly silenced – including the well-known blogger Eskinder Nega, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in an unjust trial. The journalist who is internationally known for his work was even threatened to be sentenced to death for criticizing the Ethiopian anti-terror law to be a method of silencing critical journalists. Officially, he was accused of supporting terrorism.