Comoros president pardons 17 jailed opposition figures

Comoros President Azali Assoumani pardoned 17 jailed opposition figures in a decree issued on Wednesday.

Among those freed was Hassane Ahmed el-Barwane, secretary general of the main Juwa opposition party, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for assaulting a soldier.

All those pardoned were jailed for up to 20 years on charges linked to unrest that followed a controversial constitutional referendum to extend the president’s term last year.

Four others sentenced to life on charges of attempting a coup and threatening state security had their terms reduced to 20 years, said presidential adviser Mohamed Ismailla.

They included writer Said Ahmed Said Tourqui and Bahassane Ahmed Said, brother of former vice president Djaffar Ahmed Said, who sought refuge in France.

Azali took the oath of office on Sunday, two months after his controversial win in an election critics say was rigged to ensure his victory.

He was credited with nearly 60 percent of the vote in the March polls.

His 12 opposition challengers stayed away from his swearing-in ceremony, accusing the president of undermining democracy.

The president said he wanted to relaunch dialogue with opponents and involve the opposition in “making decisions on major national questions”.

Comoros has had a volatile political history since independence in 1975, enduring more than 20 attempted coups, four of which were successful.

Azali initially came to power in a coup, then ruled the country between 1999 and 2006, and was re-elected in 2016 in a vote marred by violence and allegations of irregularities.