Ethiopia Frees Opposition Leader Merera Gudina
Prominent Ethiopian opposition leader Merera Gudina has been released from prison after more than a year in detention.
The move on Wednesday came two weeks after Prime Minister Desalegn Hailemariam had announced that jailed “politicians” would have their cases annulled or pardoned “in order to improve the national consensus and widen the democratic space”.
The government has so far pardoned more than 500 people arrested in the wake of widespread deadly protests that erupted in Ethiopia’s central Oromia province in November 2015.
Merera, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was released along with more than 100 others from the Kilinto federal prison on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa. Some 360 others were also reportedly freed in the south of the country.
Speaking to reporters following his release, Merera said it felt “good” to be out of prison and called on the government to hold “honest negotiations” with political organisations “to create a democratic Ethiopia that accommodates everyone equally”.
He added: “I have never violated the law. I was a former member of parliament. I know the constitution and the law. I have been always respecting that.”
More than 1,000 supporters gathered in Merera’s hometown of Burayu to welcome him.
They held banners that read “Incarceration and intrigue will not reverse the Oromo struggle”, according to pictures posted on Twitter by the Addis Standard publication.
Rufael Disasa, a lecturer at Wollega University, was also released, the Ethiosun reported. But Bekele Gerba, the deputy chairman of the OFC, who has been detained for more than two years, is yet to be freed.
Security forces have arrested tens of thousands of people and killed more than 900 protesters since the protests by the country’s Oromo people began.
Anger over allegations of land grabs widened into protests over political restrictions and rights abuses, and spread to the northern Amhara region, prompting the government to impose a state of emergency that was only lifted in April last year.
Ethiopia denies that any of the detainees are political prisoners.
Merera was arrested in December 2016 shortly after he returned from Brussels, where he met members of the European Parliament and criticised the government’s crackdown on protesters and the state of emergency.
He was later charged with various criminal acts, inciting riots and plotting a coup.
The Addis Standard posted an image of a letter announcing Ambaye’s decision to drop charges against Merera. It said the move was “for the benefit of the public and the government”.
Source: Al Jazeera