Andualem, Eskinder among the 746 prisoners to be released

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Two Ethiopians considered by rights groups as among the country’s most prominent political prisoners are to be released as part of the government’s efforts to “foster national reconciliation” after almost three years of anti-regime protests. Andualem Aragie, vice president of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party and jailed for treason, and Eskinder Nega, a journalist who has been detained seven times on treason and terrorism charges, are in a group of 746 people serving sentences for terrorism, inciting violence and similar offences to be freed, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday.
The announcement follows the release of almost 6,400 prisoners and detainees last month. They are the first steps in what the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled since 1991, has said will be an opening up of the “democratic landscape”. Analysts say the moves are tacit recognition that repression has failed to quell almost three years of protests by people across large swaths of the country, and particularly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, demanding greater democracy. Andualem was one of the cofounders of the UDJ in 2009, having already served several years in prison for opposing the government. He was detained again in September 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2012 for “attempting to dismantle the constitution”, according to the charges. Eskinder was first arrested on treason charges in 2005 when he was editor of the newspaper Satenaw over demonstrations against the result of the 2005 general election. He was pardoned at the end of 2007 but the newspaper closed. He was arrested in September 2011 on anti-terrorism charges and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in January 2012. The following year a UN panel concluded that Eskinder’s imprisonment was “a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression”.
Commenting on the news that journalist and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Eskinder Nega will be among 746 prisoners released as part of a government pardon, Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said“It is wonderful news that this brave journalist will soon walk to freedom after seven years spent in jail simply for doing his job. He should not have spent a single day behind bars.”
“But the world must not lose sight of the thousands of other people still languishing in jail on trumped up and politically-motivated terrorism charges, including Bekele Gerba, Addisu Bulala, Woubshet Taye. All prisoners of conscience must be released immediately and unconditionally and compensated for the grave injustices done to them.”
(Compiled from Agencies)