Ethiopia frees opposition leader

By Nangayi Guyson – Addis Ababa-Ethiopian opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa  who is considered as  one of the most prominent and popular opposition leaders has been freed from jail.

Birtukan Mideksa

Birtukan Mideksa

Her release on Wednesday by  the government  saying it had granted a plea for pardon, comes four months after the government’s landslide win in elections.

The 36-year-old Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) leader was first jailed in 2005 when the opposition protested poll results that year, leading to unrest that resulted in the death of some 200 people.

Birtukan and other opposition figures were charged with plotting against the constitution in connection with those skirmishes, but were released in 2007 after being pardon , later  Ms Birtukan was rearrested for violating the terms of her release,

“It was very hard in jail. I found it very difficult to be alone for all that time. I am very pleased that I have been released,” she told AFP on Wednesday at her family home where crowds had gathered to welcome her.

The 36-year-old said she had been freed because she had applied for a pardon.

“Prison by itself is a very horrible place, especially for me the time I spent alone,” she said.

“Now I am free, I am back to my family and my daughter, I am very elated.”

According to  BBC’s Uduak Amimo in Addis Ababa, hundreds of her supporters began cheering and singing when she arrived, accompanied by her elderly mother and young daughter.

Ms Birtukan is a former judge and was one of the younger and more charismatic leaders of the coalition that did well against the ruling party in the 2005 elections.

She was among opposition politicians accused of instigating the post-poll protests in 2005 in which almost 200 demonstrators were shot by police.

Human rights campaigners have long called for her release.

“Birtukan Mideksa was considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International,” Michelle Kagari, of the London-based human rights group, said in a statement.

“She was imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression and association. We are delighted that she has been able to go home to her family.”

Meles Zenawi was sworn in for his fourth five-year term as prime minister on Monday, following his party’s overwhelming victory in May.

But European Union and US observers said the polls fell short of international standards.

Ethiopia has been repeatedly criticised for stifling basic freedoms, a charge the government has denied Human Rights Watch said the Ethiopian regime had been gradually clamping down on political freedom since the violent aftermath of the 2005 elections.