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Cablegate: Ethiopia: 10,000 Prisoners Released in New Years

VZCZCXRO5951
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #2532 2611155
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181155Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2494
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 002532

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: 10,000 PRISONERS RELEASED IN NEW YEARS
GOODWILL GESTURE

1. (SBU) SUMMARY On September 10, 2006, (New Years Eve in the
Ethiopian calendar) the Ethiopian government granted pardons
and reduced sentences for nearly 10,000 prisoners across
Ethiopia. This is the largest pardon ever granted in
Ethiopia and reduces the prison population by 15 percent.
All of those granted pardon had been convicted of crimes;
very few would be considered political prisoners. Despite
the unprecedented number released, only a fraction of the
total was publicized in the local media. END SUMMARY

2. (U) Though small scale pardons are normally granted
throughout the year in Ethiopia, a release of prisoners of
this magnitude has never occurred. In fact, this is only the
third time that the GoE has granted mass pardons and the
first time under the current government (Under Halie Selassie
1,183 prisoners were granted pardons in 1956 and 1958 and the
Derg regime released 209 in 1976). This mass pardon was
largely the result of sustained advocacy efforts led by
Pastor Daniel Gebraselassie (Pastor Dan), director of Justice
for All ) Prison Fellowship Ethiopia. Prison Fellowship is
a non-profit organization based in Addis Ababa that advocates
improvements in the overall administration of justice in
Ethiopia. Pastor Dan is a widely respected, non-partisan
prison rights advocate, and is a member of the federal pardon
board that weekly considers pardon requests from prisoners.
The Minister of Justice Assefa Kessito chairs this board, and
all proposed pardons are approved by the President of
Ethiopia, according to the pardons procedure law enacted in
2004. A similar structure exists in each region to decide
regional pardons.

3. (SBU) According to Pastor Dan, prior to the release, there
were approximately 70,000 people incarcerated in Ethiopia,
which the prison administration strains to manage. Of the
10,000 released, 263 were federal prisoners and were granted
pardons by the federal pardon board. The bulk of the pardons
were granted by regional pardon boards: 3,995 were granted
pardon in Amhara; 2,435 in Oromiya; 1,100 in Tigray; and 43
in Gambella. In a September 14 briefing for the local
diplomatic community, Pastor Dan announced an additional
2,400 will be pardoned soon in the Southern Nations region.
He indicated that all of the 10,000 released have been
convicted of criminal offenses (as required by the pardon
procedure law); few could be considered political prisoners.
For the prisoners that received pardons, several criteria
were used: a prisoner that had already served a significant
portion of his or her sentence; those over 60 years old;
prisoners with HIV/AIDS. Several inmates on death row had
their sentences changed to life in prison. Those convicted
of corruption, rape or genocide (from the Derg regime) were
not considered for pardon. Though the federal pardon was
widely publicized, the regional pardons were not announced in
the national (primarily state-sponsored) media, and therefore
remain unknown to the general public.

4. (SBU) Of the remaining 60,000 prisoners in the Ethiopian
prison system, Pastor Dan estimates there to be 450 political
prisoners in Oromiya, primarily from the Oromo Liberation
Front (OLF), and 200 political prisoners in the Addis Ababa
federal prison. He reported that 232 lower-level Coalition
for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) members had been in
prison in the Amhara region, but were released during June
2006 in a goodwill gesture by the GoE, leaving no political
prisoners in Amhara. Pastor Dan reported that the GOE has
shown increasing interest in reconciling with political
opposition at the grassroots level, which provided
opportunity for his organization to petition for release of
political prisoners. He continues to work with the GoE on
release of those political prisoners still in detained in the
Oromiya and Addis Ababa prison systems.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: While these pardons represent a genuine
harmonization achievement for Pastor Dan and the GoE, they
will have little impact on political reconciliation more
broadly. The GoE reportedly declined to offer pardons this
time around to higher profile Oromo political prisoners from
the OLF and Mecha Tulema Association, a gesture that would
have a much greater impact. Most eyes, of course, remain
focused on the fate of the CUD leaders still on trial for
treason. Pastor Dan's organization and the process
established may still bear more fruit in the future.
WILGUS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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