Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced Wednesday the release of political prisoners and the closure of a notorious detention center in what he called an effort to “widen the democratic space for all”.
Ethiopia has been accused of human rights abuses, including using mass arrests to stifle opposition and torturing prisoners in Maekelawi – a detention center in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
In a surprising move by the government, Hailemariam told a press conference that charges will be dropped for prisoners – previously referred to only as criminals – awaiting trial.
“Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released,” Hailemariam said. “And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum.”
It was not immediately clear how many prisoners were being held in the center, on which Human Rights Watch released a report in 2013, alleging that “illegal interrogation methods” were being used against prisoners.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Ethiopia of using mass arbitrary arrests, torture, and unfair trials against political opposition.
Hailemariam’s announcement follows numerous anti-government protests in recent months in the country’s restive Oromia and Amhara regions. The protests spread nationwide, prompting a months-long state of emergency that has since been lifted.