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Ethiopia drops charges against 528 suspects in first round

Charges against 528 suspects have been dropped in the first round, according to the Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia.

Attorney General Getachew Ambaye told journalists today that 115 of them are those who were detained at the federal level.

The suspects will be freed Wednesday after receiving training today and tomorrow, he said.

He further said convicted individuals are being identified to pardon them as per listed requirements. The process will take time, he added.

It is to be recalled that heads of the four member parties of EPRDF have taken decisions to pardon some convicted politicians and individuals to build national consensus and widen the political space.

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In a surprise move, Ethiopia’s leader on Wednesday announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp in what he called an effort to “widen the democratic space for all.” This is the first time the government has acknowledged holding political prisoners.

Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn’s comments came after months of sometimes deadly anti-government protests, the most serious since the current government came to power in 1991. The demonstrations engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions and spread into other parts of the East African country, leading to a months-long state of emergency that has since been lifted.

“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released,” Hailemariam said. “And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum.”

Ethiopians were quick to respond, even with social media sites currently blocked.

“I’m writing you this struggling with my tears,” wrote renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu. “All these pledges need to be implemented immediately.”

Tens of thousands of people were arrested, and reportedly hundreds were killed, during the protests demanding wider freedoms that began in late 2015 and disrupted one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.

As word spread Wednesday, Ethiopia’s government sought to downplay the prime minister’s announcement. A spokesperson, Zadig Abraha, told The Associated Press that the country has no political prisoners and that “some members of political parties and other individuals that have been allegedly suspected of committing crimes and those convicted will be pardoned or their cases interrupted, based on an assessment that will be made.”

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for the release of political prisoners, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and punished for their points of view. Ethiopia’s government has long been accused of arresting critical journalists and opposition leaders.

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