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Ethiopian government to close down torture chamber and release political prisoners

Ethiopian government announced it is closing down Maekelawi torture chamber and releasing some political prisoners in what could be said a symbolic political gesture but is it good enough to end protest for change?

Ethiopian  News - political prisoners

January 3, 2017

Faced with unprecedented and relentless protest across the country which demands an end to what many Ethiopians believe is Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) government, the Ethiopian government is making unprecedented political move with reconciliatory tone,unlike hitherto belligerent rants, by promising to close down notorious torture chamber, Maekelawi, which is a located in the heart of the Addis Ababa.

The government announced the decision today through social media update of the Office of the prime minister page.

The update added that Maekelawi torture chamber will be turned into a museum to signify that torture will not be repeated again. The infamous torture chamber served as investigation headquarter and thousands of Ethiopians were subjected to inhuman torture for forty years now since the time of the military government of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam. There have been allegations that under the existing government the chamber is predominantly run by cruel Tigray People’s Liberation Front personnel. Ethiopians of Amhara and Oromo heritage, including women, were subjected to what many Ethiopians describe as fascistic one; nails pulled out, balls crushed, among many other forms

The social media update from the prime minister office added that a new crime investigation center with international standard and in accordance with parliament approved human rights provisions will be constructed.

In a related development, chairman of the four ethnic parties that form the ruling EPRDF party held a joint press conference. The joint press conference came days after the ruling party released a statement, which turned out to be outrageous from many Ethiopians, following the completion of three weeks meeting by the executive committee of the ruling party.

According to State media, Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegne disclosed during the press conference that Ethiopian government could release some political prisoners on grounds of amnesty; convicted and those prisoners whose case is still in court will be released. The intent is, according to the prime minister, to create national reconciliation and broaden the political space in the country. It is to be remembered that the party claimed 100 percent electoral win in the last general election and many politicians and bloggers are thrown to jail.

It is not, however, clear if members of Wolkait Identity Question committee who were hand-picked by Tigray People’s Liberation Front security and intelligence personnel and thrown to Maekelawi prison facing torture. It is not clear that if bloggers and journalists are going to be released either.

On the other hand, there are speculations that Merera Gudina, Bekele Gerba, and Andualem Arage could be among lists of political prisoners to be released.

Observers say that these political gestures are meant to be a response to the ongoing widespread protest in the country which is demanding political change and it is presumed that two of the ruling coalition member parties (ANDM and OPDO) were instrumental from within to effect these reforms.

What casts doubt in the government effort is that there are reports that TPLF is still engaged in polarizing propaganda in the Somali region of Ethiopia and attempting manufactured ethnic violence in Oromo region of Ethiopia.

In any case, it remains to be seen if the promised reforms are capable of satisfaying popular demands for political change in the country

Video of the press statemetn is available here

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  1. This is a welcome start. Three further actions must be taken for the ruling party to show it is sincere. First, reporters must be allowed into the country to interview the prisoners. Second, since most were jailed and tortured on flimsy charges and for no other reason than because the ruling party could jail and torture, each prisoner should receive compensation of some kind. Third, the ruling party should begin to re-register civil society organizations de-registered by the fiat of the late Meles Zenawi following ruling party defeat at the 2005 elections.


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