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Ethiopia must free political prisoners and open up civic space - UN rights chief


The United Nations Humans Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged Ethiopia to free political prisoners and to open up its civic space.

The UN Human rights chief who ended his visit to Ethiopia on Thursday May 4, 2017, reiterated that his team had been denied access to the regions where the anti-government protests took place.

Addressing the media in the Ethiopian capital, Zeid Al Hussein stressed the need for the UN to be permitted to assess the situation.

“The extremely large number of arrests – over 26,000 – suggests it is unlikely rule of law guarantees have been observed in every case. I believe my staff ought to be given access to the affected areas, and I renew my request, so we can assess the situation and ascertain what further support can be given to the authorities, including justice officials.”

He also called for a much wider and freer civic space in Ethiopia and asked the government to release prisoners who were arrested out of fear of criticizing the government.

“I am requesting the government to consider, if possible, the release of a number of individuals whose arrest or conviction appears to have been motivated by fear of criticism rather than evidence of intent to spark violent overthrow.”

His comment comes in the wake of an earlier announcement by the Ethiopian government that it will not allow independent investigations into the protests in the Oromo and Amhara regions.

A government commissioned investigation into the unrest indicated that some 699 people were killed in the violence. Addis Ababa has yet to officially respond to his fresh request. He met with Premier Hailemariam Dessalegn, the head of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, the Speaker of Parliament and other opposition groups during his three-day visit.

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