Ethiopia offers amnesty to jailed opposition leaders

Jawar Mohammed

In this file photo, Jawar Mohammed (center), a member of the Oromo ethnic group, addresses his supporters outside his home in Addis Ababa on October 24, 2019.

Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ethiopian government says freeing the jailed opposition leaders is as part of all-inclusive national dialogue.
  • The decision is being seen as a move to further isolate the TPLF and allied Oromo Liberation Army.

Ethiopian government on Friday granted amnesty to high profile opposition leaders in what could ease tension in the country amid the Tigray conflict.

A statement issued by the Federal Government Communication Service listed Oromo Federalist Congress leader and media mogul Jawar Mohammed and the leader of the Balderas Party Eskinder Nega among dozens freed “as part of an all-inclusive national dialogue.”

The list also included six other senior opposition figures including Sebhat Nega, Kidusan Nega, Abadi Zemu, Abay Woldu, Mulu Gebregziabher and Kiros Hagos.

Sebhat Nega was among the founders of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is currently fighting the Ethiopian government.

“The government strongly believes that Ethiopia’s problems need to be addressed in a comprehensive dialogue approach,” the Ethiopian government said of a national dialogue planned to deal with “contemporary political issues and unresolved discourses of the country.”

Freeing of the eight and their associates, the official statement said, will “pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful, non-violent way. Especially with the aim of the all-inclusive national dialogue a success.”

“It is believed that those given amnesty have learnt from the past and will hopefully make a better contribution to their country and to the people of Ethiopia.”

Mr Mohammed, owner of the influential Oromia Media Network, had been arrested in the wake of the assassination of popular Oromo musician Hachalu Hundessa on June 29, 2020.

And in the wake of his killing, a violent protest ensued in the southern region of Ethiopia, his native home. At least 150 people were shot dead and the government also responded by arrested more than 9,000 people.

The musician's assassination has never been determined. But it cost the political freedom of Mohamed, previously an ally of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as well as several other people detained alongside him.

In September of 2020, Jawar Mohamed had been charged with terrorism and fraud, and accused of fomenting violence in the wake of Hundessa’s killing. He and the group of 22 others denied the charges but were detained since. 

A senior figure who initially stayed in exile in the US, during the rule of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Jawar had returned to Ethiopia after previous charges against him were dropped by Abiy.

But he quickly became his opponent, criticised the new Prime Minister for not dealing with historical injustices against the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. 

The decision to free the high profile leaders had been rumoured for weeks since last year. And it is being seen as a move to further isolate the TPLF and allied Oromo Liberation Army.

The TPLF has been fighting the government since November 4, 2020 and Addis Ababa has declared it a terrorist group. Ethiopia said the TPLF and other armed groups will not be invited to the dialogue until they surrender.