Prime Minster Haile Mariam Dessalegn announced that his government will release all political prisoners and a notorious detention center knows as Maekelawi will be closed. During his announcement the PM was flanked by the chairmen of the sister parties that form the EPRDF coalition.
The government didn’t say anything whether those who put those people in jail in the first place will be held accountable, or if the prisoners will be compensated for pain and suffering they endured.
Details of this announcement and names of those prisoners to be pardoned has not yet been released. Surprisingly the official government Facebook post of this announcement has been edited multiple times within few hours, each edit adding more restrictions and conditions.
Regardless, Today’s announcement could signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia. For prisoners who have spent years incarcerated on politically motivated and trumped-up charges, this is long overdue.
Most have been detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights, and should never have been in jail in the first place. We are calling on the Ethiopian authorities to implement today’s decision as quickly as possible by immediately and unconditionally releasing them. The authorities should also repeal or substantially amend the repressive laws under which they were imprisoned, including the draconian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
While plans to close the notorious Maekelawi detention center are welcome, the closure must not be used to whitewash the horrifying events that have taken place there. For years, Maekelawi has essentially functioned as a torture chamber, used by the Ethiopian authorities to brutally interrogate anybody who dares to dissent including peaceful protestors, journalists and opposition figures.
A new chapter for human rights will only be possible if all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice. We are also calling for investigations into dozens of enforced disappearances that have taken place since 1991 – it is not enough to release some peaceful dissenters while the fate of many others remains unknown.
In the post announcing the closing of Maekelawi, the government promised to build a state of the art facility to replace the current notorious torture chamber that has been in use since the time of the military junta, and turn the facility to a museum. Even though the current government has been using the same facility as a torture chamber for 27 years, they only mentioned the military junta that they deposed as the sole user of the facility.