Ethiopia's chief prosecutor announced 1,000 convicts were pardoned Saturday, including 135 Muslims jailed under anti-terror laws for opposing what they called government interference in their religion. The president signed the pardon for Muslim group members after they expressed regret, Prosecutor-General Getachew Ambaye was quoted as saying by the state-run Ethiopian News Agency.
Those who had been jailed were pardoned before the Ethiopian new year and Eid celebrations on Sunday, reports The Associated Press. They were serving prison time related to anti-terrorism charges and for religious extremism, Getachew said.
Ethiopia handed out long jail terms to many Muslims who were involved in months-long protests in 2012, accusing the government of unconstitutionally encouraging a moderate teaching of Islam called Al-Ahbash and dictating the election of community leaders to support it at an Addis Ababa religious school, reports ABC News.
Among those people released this weekend was Yusuf Getachew, editor-in-chief of Ye Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), who has been imprisoned since his arrest in July 2012, a relative of the journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
"We are elated that Yusuf Getachew has finally been released from prison, but he should never have been jailed in the first place," said Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa program coordinator in the Indian Express. "We call on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately release all other journalists imprisoned in the country for their work."
Yusuf was serving a seven-year sentence on anti-terrorism charges, after being convicted in August 2015, three years after his arrest, according to CPJ. During a court hearing in 2012, Yusuf said he was beaten in custody, local journalists told CPJ at the time, according to the group.
According to CPJ, Ethiopia is the third worst jailer of journalists in Africa, with 10 journalists imprisoned there at the time of the group's last prison census.
Three years ago, Ethiopia officials arrested and detained two journalists for a week without charges. They were working for Radio Bilal, a station that has provided extensive coverage of ongoing anti-government protests staged by Ethiopian Muslims.
"The arrests of Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed appear to follow a pattern of Ethiopian authorities cracking down on independent journalists and news outlets involved in disseminating news about the Muslim protests taking place in the country," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Trying to silence independent views and accounts of this national issue will not solve the ongoing dispute and instead will further the sense that the government has something to hide."