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Ethiopia Should Release All Political Detainees, UN Says

FILE - Merera Gudina addresses supporters at a rally in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, May 15, 2010.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it welcomes Ethiopia's decision this week to release 115 detainees, including several leading political figures. But it says the government should free all those imprisoned for holding opposing opinions.

One of those freed Wednesday was Merera Gudina, a senior leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress party. Gudina was arrested in late 2015 and charged with collusion with groups outlawed by the Addis Ababa government.

The Ethiopian government imposed a state of emergency in October 2016. That followed deadly anti-government protests by the Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups, who are pressing for greater freedom.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell told VOA that about 20,000 people were arrested during the state of emergency, which was lifted in August 2017. She said a number of people subsequently were released, but that the number of people still in detention remained high.

"That is why we are welcoming the moves by the government to start releasing people and we are welcoming the comments that the government and prime minister have made with regard to setting up reviews for people who can be released, also setting up task forces to look into reported killings," she said.

Discontinued cases

Throssell said her office also welcomed the government's decision to discontinue cases against 400 other detainees. However, she said she was concerned that certain categories of prisoners would not be eligible for release. These include people suspected of committing murder, causing injury, destroying infrastructure and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by force.

"We appreciate the seriousness of some of the offenses that may have been committed, but we urge the government to review these conditions to ensure that they are neither interpreted nor implemented too broadly, thereby resulting in people being arbitrarily or wrongfully detained," she said.

The U.N. human rights office is calling on the Ethiopian government to bring its anti-terrorism legislation and laws regarding civil society and the media in line with international human rights law and principles.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.