February 14, 2018 / 4:08 PM / 7 months ago

Ethiopia frees journalist jailed since 2011

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia freed a journalist on Wednesday who had been jailed since 2011 on terrorism charges, the latest in a raft of releases of prisoners aimed at calming unrest that has plagued the country since 2015.

Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in 2012 for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, having been accused of inciting violence with a series of online articles.

He was released a week after Ethiopia’s attorney general announced his pardoning alongside 745 other prisoners, including a senior opposition official. State-run outlets had earlier said that all were expected to be released on Wednesday.

The move is one of a series of reforms that the government has undertaken after violence broke out three years ago, sparked by an urban development plan for the capital, Addis Ababa, that critics said would trigger land grabs in the Oromiya region.

Unrest subsequently spread throughout that province, with demonstrations taking place over political marginalization and human rights abuses.

Thousands of prisoners have been freed since January, having been accused of involvement in the mass protests. On Tuesday, authorities released Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the opposition group Oromo Federalist Congress, who was arrested in December 2015.

“It is clear that there need to be plenty of changes. Atrocities were committed and those have to be addressed,” Bekele told Reuters. “People have to gain confidence in the government.”

Rights groups say hundreds died in the violence of 2015 and 2016, casting a shadow over a country with one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.

The government in Addis Ababa is often accused of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent, as well as suppressing non-governmental organizations and the media, which the government denies.

“The authorities must also take steps to reform the legal system under which arbitrary detentions and torture of dissidents have been allowed to flourish,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the region.

Reporting by Aaron Maasho, editing by Larry King

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