Over 740 prisoners have been pardoned by Ethiopian authorities as part of a political reform move to foster national unity.
Among those pardoned are a top journalist Eskinder Nega who has been in jail since 2011 after he was convicted of having links with banned opposition groups and leading a plan to throw the country into serious political chaos through a series of terrorist acts.
According to the Attorney General, about 417 of those to be released were jailed on charges of terrorism, inciting violence, religious extremism amongst others.
“The prisoners will join the society after the President approved their list to be tabled by the Board of Pardon as well as receiving rehabilitation training,” the state affiliated FBC said.
In January 2017, the federal government released over 500 detainees including leading opposition chief Merera Gudina of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). Gudina’s release was welcomed by activists and rights groups who held that he did not deserve to be detained in the first place.
There was also an increased push for the government to release more prisoners. Regional governments – Oromia and Amhara, have since announced pardons for thousands of detainees. The two regions were at the heart of anti-government protests that riled the country between 2016 and much of 2016.
Beside Eskinder, another prominent opposition member Andulem Arage has also been pardoned. Ethiopia has repeatedly been accused of using its anti-terrorism laws to lock up journalists and activists.
Nega whiles in prison was named the winner of a top press freedom award when the International Press Institute (IPI) in April 2017 named him as the winner of the ‘World Press Freedom Hero’ award. He became the IPI’s 69th World Press Freedom Hero.
It was, however, not the first international award he has received. In 2014, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) honoured Nega with its Golden Pen of Freedom Award.
In 2012, he also received the PEN American Center/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
‘‘His jailing came shortly after Nega, a persistent critic of Ethiopia’s former long-time ruler and then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, published a column questioning the government’s abuse of anti-terror laws to punish journalistic scrutiny,’‘ the IPI said in a press statement.
Following his arrest in 2011, a court subsequently convicted him in June 2012 on charges of “participation in a terrorist organization” and “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of (a) terrorist act”.