Merera Gudina, Ethiopia opposition leader, freed

348

Jailed Ethiopian opposition leader Merera Gudina has been freed after more than a year in detention.

The leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress was released on Wednesday morning and allowed to go home, where he was welcomed by thousands of people.

He has been in prison since December 2016 and was facing charges, including association with terrorist groups.

The Ethiopian government announced on Monday that it would drop charges against more than 500 suspects.

Human rights groups have long accused Ethiopia of refusing to allow opposition groups to operate freely.

The government has denied holding any political prisoners but says the releases will foster national debate and “widen the political sphere”.

Those being freed will first undergo two days of “rehabilitation training”, the government says.

At the beginning of January, Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn announced the government would close Maekelawi – a detention facility in the capital, Addis Ababa, allegedly used as a torture chamber.

Why was Mr Merera arrested?

Mr Merera was arrested in November 2016 at the airport in the capital, Addis Ababa, after he flew in from Brussels.

He had violated Ethiopia’s state of emergency by having contact with “terrorist” and “anti-peace” groups, state-linked media reported at the time.

That month, Mr Merera had criticised the state of emergency in an address to the European parliament.

The government imposed it in October 2016 to end an unprecedented wave of protests against its 25-year rule.

More than 11,000 people were arrested, mostly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, which were at the forefront of anti-government protests.

Many in the two regions complain of political and economic marginalisation.