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Ethiopia Frees 745 Inmates Including Journalist Eskinder Nega

Ethiopia’s attorney-general ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners on Thursday, state media reported, including journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega and opposition leader Andualem Arage, whose jailings drew international condemnation.

The pair are the latest high-profile detainees to be freed since Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced in January that Ethiopia would allow an unspecified number of detained “politicians” to leave jail.

“The federal attorney-general today pardoned a total of 746 suspects and prisoners, including Eskindr (sic) Naga and Andualem Arage,” state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate said.

“About 417 of the pardoned inmates are federal prisoners jailed on terrorism, inciting violence, religious extremism and other related convictions,” Fana added.

The names have been forwarded to President Mulatu Teshome, who has the power to grant their freedom, the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation said.

Ethiopia  is frequently rebuked by rights groups for cracking down on dissent under the guise of national security concerns.

The government rejects the accusations.

Since 2015, hundreds died in violence in the Horn of Africa country’s largest province Oromiya – and to a lesser extent its Amhara region – as protests broadened into demonstrations against political restrictions and perceived rights abuses.

Ethiopia has also been hit in the past months by a spate of ethnic clashes that have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

With a population of 100 million, the unrest has triggered concerns over implications on regional stability and amongst investors who have been looking to tap into one of the continent’s fastest growing economies.

Blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega was arrested in 2011 and accused of trying to incite violence with a series of online articles. He was jailed for 18 years.

In the same case, Andualem Arage from the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party was jailed for life.

Both were among a group of 20 people on trial. Among the others were five other exiled journalists who were sentenced in absentia to between 15 years to life.

It was not immediately clear if the remaining members of that group were being pardoned.

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