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Ethiopia frees opposition leader jailed for incitement

Bekele Gerba, former deputy head of the Oromo Federalist Congress party, gets prison time.

Bekele Gerba

ADDIS ABABA, Feb 13 (Reuters) – Ethiopia released a senior opposition leader from prison on Tuesday and dropped all charges against him, a day after demonstrators blocked roads and staged rallies in several towns to protest against his incarceration.

Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out in the Oromiya region over accusations that farmers were being forced to sell land with scant compensation.

He had been held initially on terrorism charges, which were later reduced to charges of incitement to violence.

“He just walked out of prison. We have confirmed that all charges against him have been dropped,” Mulatu Gemechu, a member of the OFC’s leadership told Reuters.

State-affiliated media confirmed that Bekele had been freed along with seven other opposition figures, and that the charges against him had been dropped. Ethiopia’s information minister was not available for comment.

Bekele’s release came amid a three-day strike across Oromiya province, which surrounds the capital, as well as a mass pardoning of dissidents by the government aimed at reducing unrest that has simmered since 2015.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January, mainly people who had been detained for alleged involvement in unrest in Oromiya, or, to a lesser extent, the Amhara region.

Bekele was sentenced last month to six months for contempt of court after he and other opposition members sang a protest song during their trial. Had he not been freed, a verdict on his incitement charge would have been handed down on March 7.

On Tuesday, large crowds marched in various towns in Oromiya and roads remained blocked with large stones, including in the towns of Jimma, Woliso and Legetafo.

Markets, schools and banks remained closed in most of the areas, residents said. Some protesters attacked vehicles.

“Many Oromo politicians remain unjustly incarcerated, such as Bekele,” said one protester in the town of Jimma, who gave his name only as Awol, speaking before news that Bekele had been freed. “All should be released. That is why we are striking.”

Sparked initially by an urban development plan for the capital, unrest spread in 2015 and 2016 with demonstrations against political restrictions and human rights abuses.

Rights groups say hundreds have died in the violence.

Ethiopia is often accused of using security concerns as an excuse to stifle dissent, as well as suppressing non-governmental organisations and the media, which the government denies.

One comment

  1. Yeeeeeeeehaw!!!!!! All I can say is yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehaw!!!!! Hey little tiger!!!! Daddy is coming home!!!!! Daddies are coming home!!!! What am I talking about? Daddies are home!!!! Hug your daddy now and don’t let it go!!!!

    Even at this age, all I can say is yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehaw!!!!!!! Now, valkyrie!!! Sing it hun!!!! Sing it sweetheart, sing it!!!! Now, let Obbo Andargachew come home to his kids too!!! All other political prisoners should be part of the release!!!

    Then the healing should begin in earnest!!!! It is not the time to swagger daggers!!! It would not be the time to war-dance with ‘Now I can gouge your eyes out. It is my turn”!!! Now the transition of an all transparent dialogue should commence that will lead to a peaceful transfer of power. Then a genuine government of the people, for the people and by the people should travel to capital of our brothers and sisters of Eritrea and come up with a once and for ever solution to the issues that pitched one blood brother and sister against another. You had heard me saying before. If the peoples of two nations hammer out the silly issues between them, the sky is just the limit for what they can achieve. I swear to you, I will bet my last penny with you that what they can achieve in just a decade will dwarf what any so called ‘tiger’ economies had achieved in 3 or 4 decades. You are talking about the most resilient and resourceful peoples in both countries. This ‘Bademe’ thing is just silly that should not scuttle the road to the big picture. If the will is there it can be done with in a heartbeat with the Promised Land in the horizon. I hope and pray that Our Creator’s Blessings would be upon me to see that day before my last day on this good earth. For now, I am in a festive mood.

    Watch for a vacuum!!!! That can be one of the worst situations that can pop out there just as it did in 1974. And this time, it can lead to a sudden slide into a bloody mayhem that was never seen. I hope and pray that level heads will be able to rein in this time around. Otherwise, there are going to be tens or probably hundreds of bloodthirsty Mengistus in every region along ethnic and religious lines.

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