Ethiopia Pledges to Release 528 People in First Round of Pardons

(Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia said it’s preparing to release 528 detainees including the chairman of an opposition party, state-affiliated media reported, in what would be the first round of pardons announced by the government this month.

The detainees, 115 of whom are being held by federal authorities, will be released Wednesday and include Merera Gudina of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Fana Broadcasting Corp. cited Attorney General Getachew Ambaye as saying. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corp. reported the initial pardons would involve people from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, one of Ethiopia’s nine ethnically based regional states, and other regions will follow.

Ethiopia has been rocked by more than two years of sporadic, often deadly protests and implemented a temporary state of emergency after a spate of attacks on foreign businesses. The unrest has damaged the Horn of Africa country’s reputation as an investment destination and posed one of the biggest challenges to the ruling coalition since it came to power in the early 1990s.

Ethiopia’s Communications Ministry said in a Jan. 4 statement that “some members of political parties and other individuals” suspected of committing crimes or those convicted “will be pardoned or their cases interrupted based on an assessment that will be made so as to establish a national consensus and widen the political sphere.”

The European Parliament has been among organizations calling for Merera’s release. He was arrested in Ethiopia after he took part in a November 2016 panel in Brussels and accused of breaking the law implementing the state of emergency by putting pressure on the government, “threatening society through the means of violence” and trying to “disrupt the constitutional order,” the European Parliament said in a May 2017 resolution.

Attorney General Getachew said in a phone interview that he wasn’t available to comment on the reports. “These are political leaders or members of political organizations,” he said. “They are detained in connection with violations of different laws of the country.”

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