Ethiopia frees prominent dissident, drops charges against others

Many dissidents in Ethiopia have been jailed. (AFP pic)

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia on Tuesday released a leading member of an armed opposition group whose arrest and extradition from Yemen in 2014 was slammed by the UK.

Andargachew Tsige, a dual citizen of Ethiopia and the UK, was among hundreds of prisoners pardoned last week who left jail, state-affiliated Fana Broadcast Corporate reported.

“More than 500 inmates, including Andargachew Tsige, have been released from prison,” the broadcaster said.

His release was welcomed by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said he was, “pleased Andargachew [Tsige] is now able to reunite with his loved ones after being separated from them for so long.”

The UK had condemned Yemen for arresting Andargachew at Sana’a International Airport as he was travelling to Eritrea and sending him to Ethiopia the same day.

Andargachew, a top member in opposition group Ginbot 7, is the latest high-profile dissident to be released by Ethiopia since Abiy Ahmed took over as prime minister in April after months of political turmoil.

“Recent moves by the Ethiopian Government send a positive signal that they remain serious about following through with promised reforms to increase political space,” Johnson added in his statement.

Ethiopia, which considers Ginbot 7 a terrorist group, had accused Andargachew of plotting attacks and training opposition groups in Eritrea, its neighbour and arch-foe.

Shortly after his arrest, Andargachew proclaimed “peace” and vowed to “calm down” in an appearance on Ethiopian state television.

Ethiopia’s attorney general Birhanu Tsegaye said last week Andargachew was among a special group of prisoners pardoned because they had “demonstrated remorse”.

On Tuesday, Fana reported Birhanu had also ordered charges dropped against Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega, along with two US-based opposition media outlets that had been indicted last year, Oromia Media Network (OMN) and Ethiopian Satellite Television.

Charges were also dropped against OMN’s founder Jawar Mohammed, a fierce critic of the government who has promoted strikes and protests that were seen as factors in the government imposing a six-month state of emergency in February.

Berhanu, who has already been sentenced to death in a previous trial, lives outside Ethiopia, as does Jawar. Neither man had been arrested.

Rights groups have criticised Ethiopia for claiming association with Ginbot 7 as a reason to prosecute politicians and journalists opposed to the one-party rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.