Ethiopia to close notorious prison camp, release political prisoners

Ethiopia to close notorious prison camp, release political prisoners

"Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released", Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said at a press conference, according to The Associated Press.

Spokesman, Zadig Abraha, insisted the country had no political prisoners and that "some members of political parties and other individuals that have been allegedly suspected of committing crimes and those convicted will be pardoned or their cases interrupted, based on an assessment that will be made".

The statement didn't give details on the identity of those who will be released or when Maekalwi will be closed.

The Horn of Africa country has been wrecked by violence for nearly three years, with protests first breaking out in its Oromiya province over of land grab allegations. But the government steadfastly denies that the East African nation has political prisoners.

Almost 700 people died in one bout of unrest during months of protests in 2015 and 2016, according to a parliament-mandated investigation.

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Amnesty International's Fisseha Tekle said the announcement could "signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia". Dozens of people were killed in several bouts of violence between ethnic Oromos and Somalis in the Oromiya region past year.

Hailemariam's announcement Wednesday came after marathon meetings with the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition.

The unrest had triggered growing friction within the party.

Ethiopia, sandwiched between volatile Somalia and Sudan, is often accused by rights groups of regularly using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent and media freedoms. The demonstrations began in 2015, initially to protest government development plans near the capital, Addis Ababa.

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for the release of political prisoners, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and were being punished for their points of view.

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