Authorities in Ethiopia’s Somali region have released about 1,500 people from prison, the latest step in a campaign to ease long-running political tensions.
Mohammed Bilal Hassan, media adviser to the regional president, told VOA’s Horn of Africa service that the prisoners were released Thursday, hours after regional officials announced such action would be taken. He said they include people arrested under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law and “other criminals.”
Up to 6,000 prisoners across Ethiopia have now been released within the last month.
Last week, the government freed several prominent critics and opposition leaders, including journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who had been serving an 18-year prison sentence.
Rights groups have long criticized Ethiopia’s government as repressive and undemocratic. Authorities arrested thousands of people during a wave of sometimes violent anti-government protests, mainly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, during 2015 and 2016. Most were charged with treason or incitement to violence. Activists said the government was attempting to silence dissent.
The government declared a state of emergency last week after Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced he plans to resign. The declaration included restrictions on free expression and the right to assembly.
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said the move “undermines recent positive steps toward creating a more inclusive political space, including the release of thousands of prisoners.”
VOA’s Horn of Africa Service