U.N. urges Ethiopia to release more detainees

The United Nations on Friday welcomed a move by the Ethiopian government to release 115 detainees earlier this week, including a senior opposition politician, but urged for a review of the status of thousands still jailed and to loosen anti-terror laws and curbs on activists and media.

The leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress party, Merera Gudina, was among those released on Wednesday, in an effort to advance the calming of the country’s political upheavals following the violence that shook the country in 2015 and 2016.

Merera was arrested in late 2015 and charged with collusion with groups outlawed by the Ethiopian government.

Reuters news agency reports U.N. human rights spokesman Liz Throssell to say the ruling coalition had indicated that cases against some 400 other detainees held at the regional level would be discontinued.

“These are positive developments. We urge the government to continue to take steps to release individuals detained for expressing their political views,” Throssell said.

“We do think that Ethiopia is at a key moment and that’s why we are saying that we stand ready to help Ethiopia,” Throssell added.

Hundreds were killed during two years of violence triggered by allegations of land grabs in Ethiopia’s central Oromiya province, with protests then broadening into demonstrations over political restrictions and perceived rights abuses.

“We don’t have an exact figure on the number of people that have been in detention. We do think that it is in the thousands,” Throssell said, adding they included “political detainees”.

Throssell urged the Ethiopian government to review anti-terror legislation and laws “to ensure that they are neither interpreted nor implemented too broadly, thereby resulting in people being arbitrarily or wrongfully detained.”