Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega and two prominent opposition figures have refused to sign letters of pardon from the government, holding up their planned release from prison.
Eskinder and opposition leaders Andualem Arage and Abebe Kesto — all critics of the government — are among 746 prisoners set for release following an announcement Thursday by Ethiopia’s attorney general.
But Eskinder’s wife, Serkalem Facil, has told VOA’s Horn of Africa Service that her husband declined to sign the letter of pardon because it states he was a member of Ginbot 7, a political organization banned in Ethiopia.
“Eskinder, Andualem and others were summoned by prison officers. They were asked to sign a form saying they are members of the Ginbot 7 movement as a precondition for their release,” Serkalem said. “Eskinder refused to sign the form, saying that he is not a member of the organization. So, I know there is no deal.”
Fantu Aragie, the sister of Andualem Arage, said her brother and Abebe Kesto also refused to sign the pardon letter.
“The three of them refused to ask the government for a pardon. In fact, they informed them that the government should ask them for a pardon,” she said.
All three men remained in prison Friday.
The majority of the prisoners set to be freed were arrested on charges of terrorism, inciting violence or religious extremism. Human rights groups say the arrests were, in fact, aimed at silencing opponents and critics of Ethiopia’s de facto one-party state.
The planned release and other recent prisoner releases are aimed at reducing tensions in the Horn of Africa country following a wave of anti-government protests in 2015 and 2016, mainly in the southern Oromia region, that sparked a nationwide state of emergency and a government crackdown.
The attorney general said 417 of those to be released are convicted prisoners, while another 329 are suspects still awaiting trial.
The prisoners are to be freed after undergoing rehabilitation training and receiving approval from Ethiopia’s president, Mulatu Teshome.