By Dawit Endeshaw ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Ethiopia will free several opposition leaders from prison, the state broadcaster reported on Friday, as the government said it would begin dialogue with political opponents after 14 months of war during which thousands of people have been arrested. The move to free leaders from several different ethnic groups is […]
Ethiopia releases several opposition leaders from prison
By Dawit Endeshaw
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Ethiopia will free several opposition leaders from prison, the state broadcaster reported on Friday, as the government said it would begin dialogue with political opponents after 14 months of war during which thousands of people have been arrested.
The move to free leaders from several different ethnic groups is the most significant breakthrough since war broke out in the northern Tigray region, threatening the unity of Africa’s second most populous state. Some Tigrayan leaders are among those freed.
“The key to lasting peace is dialogue,” a statement from the government communications office said. “One of the moral obligations of a victor is mercy.”
The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation list of those to be freed includes two senior political leaders from Oromiya: Bekele Gerba, a senior leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress party, and Jawar Mohammed, founder of the Oromiya Media Network.
Oromiya is home to Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group and is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political heartland.
Reuters could not immediately reach representatives or lawyers for the two men, who were charged in September 2020 with terrorism offences which authorities said were linked to deadly protests that took place in June that year following the assassination of a popular Oromo singer.
Oromiya has a long-running insurgency rooted in grievances about perceived political marginalisation and rights abuses by the security services.
The leader of the Balderas for Genuine Democracy opposition party, Eskinder Nega, has been released, his party announced on Twitter. Eskinder, an ethnic Amhara journalist and blogger, was charged alongside Jawar, Bekele and more than a dozen other political activists.
In August, the most active Oromo insurgent group, the Oromo Liberation Army, announced an alliance with Tigrayan forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that dominated Ethiopian national politics for nearly three decades before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s appointment in 2018.
The TPLF controlled Tigray when Tigrayan forces seized military bases across the northern region in November 2020. The TPLF said it was acting to avert an imminent attack by the military.
Among those freed are Abay Weldu, a former president of Tigray, and Sebhat Nega, the founder of the TPLF, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said on Twitter.
Getachew Reda, spokesman for the TPLF, could not be reached immediately for comment.
The Ministry of Justice said on Facebook that charges against people charged in the same case as Jawar and Eskinder have been “lifted”. It was not immediately clear if that meant suspended or dismissed and officials did not answer calls seeking coment.
The ministry also said six individuals charged alongside TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, including Sebhat, have had their charges lifted for reasons of age and health.
There was no indication that outstanding charges against TPLF’s leaders had been rescinded.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Cawthorne)