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Oakland Institute: A Critical Moment for Ethiopia

Friday 16th of September 2016 01:20:24 PM  |  Diretube

Last weekend on the eve of two large celebrations in Ethiopia—the Ethiopian New Year and the beginning of Eid al-Adha festivities—the Ethiopian authorities pardoned approximately 1,000 people, 135 of whom had been charged under the country’s draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Amongst those released were leaders of the Ethiopian Muslim community, who have been in jail since July 2012 when they were detained for protesting against governmental interference in religious affairs.1

While the release of these political prisoners is welcome, we must not be fooled by this supposedly “generous” act. The Ethiopian government frequently issues pardons at times of international scrutiny. Before President Obama’s trip to Ethiopia in July 2015, for instance, numerous high profile political prisoners were released, including Bekele Gerba,2 Reeyot Alemu, and several of the Zone 9 Bloggers. Pardons like these are strategic. They are meant to make the Ethiopian government look reasonable, with the hope that the international community will be pacified and look the other way.

But the abuses continue, and cannot be ignored.

Just two days after the pardons, it was reported that two more Ethiopian opposition members had been arrested. On September 3rd, at least 23 prisoners died “under disputed circumstances” when a fire broke out in Ethiopia’s notorious Kilinto jail. Those jailed at Kilinto include numerous Oromo protesters, former World Bank translator Omot Agwa, and prominent Oromo opposition politician, Bekele Gerba. Local news reports allege that prison guards opened fire on the detained during the fire.

And let us not forget the thousands that remain behind bars, having not been included in what appears to have been an arbitrary set of pardons.

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