The Ethiopian government has decided to free five of the nine bloggers and journalists imprisoned over a year ago, according to Fana Broadcast, the state’s semi-autonomous media.
Reeyot Alemu, another journalist who was imprisoned four years ago, and a number of Oromo students, jailed around the same time as the bloggers, have also been released.
The government’s decision to free some of the bloggers, journalists and student protestors might appear as an attempt to please President Obama who will be visiting Ethiopia and Kenya this month.
But the government must have decided to release the dissidents right after winning the May 2015 election and must have been waiting for the right opportunity to do it. Obama’s visit seems the perfect one.
The US has been highly critical of the Ethiopian government’s treatment of the opposition and the press.
The government sent the nine bloggers and journalists to prison, charging them with “terrorism,” just few days before the Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Addis Ababa for bilateral talks last year. Now, ahead of Obama’s arrival, the terrorism charges have been dropped for some of the bloggers and journalists. And this cannot be a coincidence.
You can only imagine the Prime Minister telling the visiting President this: “Welcome, Mr. President! And look at what we have done in your honor! You can proudly tell your fellow Americans that your pressures have worked and we have listened. Now, Mr. President, where is that development aid you promised us?”
In reality, the released dissidents pose no threat to the EPRDF regime at this time. In fact, their charges were dubious from the very beginning, charges fabricated by a paranoid ruling party afraid of losing the May election.
Opposition groups and supporters, both at home and in the diaspora, have been actively denouncing Obama’s trip although some are now changing their minds, following the court’s decisions to free the bloggers and journalists.
The opposition have urged Obama to cancel the trip. They stated that his visit would legitimize the ruling party, which declared victory in the parliamentary election winning every seat.
Obama hasn’t changed his plan and hasn’t personally commented in public about his trip yet. But when he visits, he has the chance to push for the release of more political prisoners who don’t deserve to be in jail.