Ethiopia Frees Key Opposition Leaders Ahead of National Dialogue
(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia released several prominent opposition leaders who were arrested in July 2020 after violent unrest erupted following the killing of prominent singer Hachalu Hundessa.
The government also released several veteran leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The move’s purpose is to “pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful, non-violent way,” the Ethiopian Government Communication Service said in a statement on Twitter. “It is believed that those given amnesty have learnt from the past and will hopefully make a better contribution to their country and to the people of Ethiopia.”
Others granted amnesty include Sibhat Nega and Kidusan Nega, members of the TPLF, a party from northern Ethiopia. Sebhat was captured in January after war broke out between forces allied to the TPLF and the federal government of Abiy Ahmed in November 2020.
Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and Eskinder Nega were allowed to leave on Friday, confirmed Tuli Bayisa, a lawyer who represented Jawar and Bekele. The move coincided with Ethiopia’s celebration of Christmas in accordance with its own calendar and the formation of national dialog commission.
“The government’s decision to free them is good news,” Bayisa said by phone from Addis Ababa, the capital. “It however needs to be inclusive, not just the key” leaders who are released. The two opposition leaders are awaiting security assurances before leaving, Tuli said.
The three had been charged with terrorism, inciting ethnic clashes, telecommunication fraud and seeking to topple the government. Hundreds of others were also arrested after the violent outbreaks.
Jawar, an influential activist from the Oromo ethnic group, was previously based in the U.S. but returned to Ethiopia in 2018 following reforms initiated by Abiy.
Eskinder, the leader of the Balderas for Genuine Democracy party, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, but was released after serving seven years when Abiy came to power. Bekele is the deputy chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress party and also served prison time when the previous administration was in office.
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