The Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Moussa Faki Mahamat has welcomed the announcement made by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn to pardon or suspend ongoing judicial cases of members of political parties and other individuals.
On Wednesday, Ethiopia said it would drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp following months of political unrest.
Desalegn confirmed the move on Wednesday, saying: “Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released.
“And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum,” added the Ethiopian prime minister.
Commending the move, Mahamat said it was an important and farsighted decision, asserting that the pardons would help to foster national consensus and widen the democratic space.
The AUC chairperson added that the steps initiated by Desalegn would also work towards creating a conducive environment for the pursuit and consolidation of the impressive socio-economic gains Ethiopia had made over the past decade.
Additionally, these steps would also enhance the country’s stability, which is of paramount importance for the region and Africa as a whole, said Mahamat, before he called on all Ethiopians, irrespective of their political affiliations, to embrace and sustain the spirit of forgiveness and unity in the interest of their country.
Desalegn’s groundbreaking announcement presented the first time that Addis Ababa had acknowledged holding political prisoners.
Ethiopia has seen months of deadly anti-government protests, the most serious since the current administration came to power in 1991.
The restive regions of Oromia and Amhara were hardest hit by the demonstrations which eventually spread to other parts of the country, leading to a months-long state of emergency which has now been lifted.
Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands of people arrested during the protests which began in late 2015.
Human rights organisations in the Horn-of-Africa country have been calling for the release of political prisoners for months while reporting wide-spread abuses at Maekalawi.
However, other members of Ethiopia’s government attempted to downplay the prime minister’s announcement.
Spokesman, Zadig Abraha, insisted the country had no political prisoners, only 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.”
It remains unclear how many political prisoners are being held in the country or when they will be released.
– African News Agency (ANA)