Ethiopia on Monday said it was dropping charges against 528 political prisoners, the first such group since a decision announced earlier this month to release political prisoners. Among them is Merera Gudina, the Oromo scholar and longtime opposition leader.
State-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), FANA Broadcasting and other news outlets confirmed that Merera’s is among the cases dropped in this first wave since Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn vowed to widen the political space in the historically repressive nation.
Merera, head of the Oromo Federalist Congress, was detained in November 2016 upon returning from Brussels after he delivered a speech to members of the European Union Parliament and testified on the Ethiopian human rights crisis.
Yet he did so alongside Olympic athlete Feyisa Lilesa and exiled Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega, with the latter contact interpreted by Ethiopian authorities as a meeting with a terrorist organization during the nation’s state of emergency.
The meeting led to charges of terrorism and inciting violence that the 61-year-old Merera steadfastly denied. He has remained in detention since his airport arrest, while the state of emergency declared after the October 2016 Irreecha massacre was lifted in August 2017.
Organizations including Human Rights Watch have welcomed Ethiopia’s decision with caution, as questions remain about which detainees will be released and how that will be implemented. Felix Horne, a senior HRW researcher for Africa, has asked what will happen to Oromo politician Bekele Gerba – he remains in custody – as well as thousands of ordinary detainees.