Ethiopia Admits To Holding Political Prisoners

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn shocked the world in a joint press conference held with three other ruling party officials by admitting his government is holding political prisoners.

Mr. Desalegn said political prisoners held in Ma’ikelawi will be released. The remarkable admission comes after a closed door executive committee meeting that took 18 days. It's unclear if this announcement was a deal stricken behind the closed door meeting to calm the popular tensions in the country.

The Prime Minister also promised to release political prisoners and close Ma’ikelawi prison while revealing a plan to build another one. In addition, he pledged to drop charges against the prisoners and pardons for the ones convicted on similar charges. Ethiopia hit most of the political prisoners with terrorism charges. Many more faced tortures without charges, according to human rights activists.

Aerial View of Ma'ikelawi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Google Earth on Feb. 18, 2013
Aerial View of Ma'ikelawi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Google Earth on Feb. 18, 2013 hrw.org / The HornPost

Even to a naïve observer of Ethiopian politics, this sounds too good to be true. The savvy observers see the closing of Ma’ikelawi as meaningless because Ethiopian government is likely to have more replicas. It is believed this is just a ploy to appease protesters.

"Ma'ikelawi will now serve as a political tactic for buying time," said Birhanu Lenjiso when asked for his reaction to Desalegn's press conference. "They have already built many Ma'ikelawis unknown to the public," he added.