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Ethiopia releases several political prisoners

January 7, 2022

The Ethiopian government has pardoned numerous political prisoners. The effort is part of a larger drive to initiate a "national dialogue" after a year of civil war with forces from the Tigray region.

Ethiopian opposition leader Jawar Mohammed
Ethiopian opposition leader Jawar Mohammed was among those pardoned FridayImage: Mulugeta Ayene/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ethiopia released several political prisoners Friday in a bid to jumpstart a "national dialogue" amid a grueling civil war.

The unexpected move to release political prisoners, including some from Tigray, the region whose forces are at odds with the federal government in Ethiopia, comes amid a pause in the conflict.

The government said it was releasing important members of Tigray's forces and opposition leaders from the Oromo ethnic group and the Amhara. The Oromo are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group.

The pardons coincided with a farewell visit by outgoing US envoy Jeffrey Feltman to Addis Ababa. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the development.

Who is affected by the amnesty?

Earlier Friday, the party of Ethiopia's opposition leader Eskinder Nega said he had been released following a year and a half in prison. 

Journalist Eskinder Nega in New York
Opposition leader Eskinder Nega has been freed from jail, his political party saidImage: picture alliance/AP Images

Ethiopian state TV said two others, Oromo opposition leader Bekele Garba and media owner and politician Jawar Mohammed, were also released.

Eskinder founded the Balderas for Genuine Democracy party. He was charged with terrorism by the country's high court in September 2020.

A former dissident blogger, Eskinder was arrested in 2020 following riots over the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a politically minded singer, in Addis Ababa.

Hachalu was revered by people from Ethiopia's Oromo region. 

Eskinder, an ethnic Amhara, was found guilty alongside Mohammed and Oromo activists.

Humanitarian crisis unfolds in Ethiopia

What is happening in Ethiopia's civil war?

Ethiopia has been engaged in a yearlong brutal civil war with forces from the Tigray region. In recent weeks,

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said the country needs a process of national reconciliation.

Late last year, Addis Ababa reversed the tide of the conflict as Tigrayan forces seemed prepared to come into the capital. 

Instead, government forces seized strategic towns and beat Tigray's forces back.

The war has resulted in thousands of deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Tigray is facing famine conditions.

ar/nm (AFP, Reuters)