Ethiopia Pardons Over 2,000 Jailed for Role in Unrest

Oromo people stage a protest against the Ethiopian government in 2016.
Photograph: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Authorities in Ethiopia’s restive Oromiya province have pardoned over 2,000 prisoners jailed for involvement in unrest that gripped the country in 2015-2016, officials said on Friday.

The move is part of government efforts to calm unrest that has lingered since mass protests broke out in the region over accusations of land grabbing.

Hundreds have died in the violence, with protests broadening into demonstrations against political restrictions and perceived human rights abuses.

On Friday, Oromiya regional President Lema Megersa announced that 2,345 inmates had been pardoned, of whom 1,568 had already been convicted and sentenced.

The move followed the release of Merera Gudina, an opposition leader who was arrested on his return from Brussels where he had addressed members of the European Parliament on the violence in Oromiya. He was freed alongside 114 other inmates.

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The government in Addis Ababa has long been accused by rights groups of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent and media freedoms. It denies the charges.

Last week the United Nations urged the Horn of Africa country to review the status of a “large number of people” still behind bars.

U.N. human rights spokesman Liz Throssell said the Addis Ababa government should review anti-terror legislation and laws “to ensure that they are neither interpreted nor implemented too broadly, thereby resulting in people being arbitrarily or wrongfully detained”.

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Laws placing “undue restrictions” on non-governmental organizations and restricting the media should also be revised, Throssell told a news conference in Geneva earlier this week.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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