Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), had been freed along with six other opposition figures: Gurmesa Ayana, Addisu Bulala, Dejene Taffa, Getu Garuma, Tesfaye Liben, and Beyene Ruda.

By Aaron Maasho (Reuters) |

ADDIS ABABA―Ethiopia released a senior opposition leader from prison on Tuesday and dropped all charges against him, a day after demonstrators blocked roads and staged rallies in several towns to protest against his incarceration.

Bekele Gerba, secretary general of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out in the Oromia region over accusations that farmers were being forced to sell land with scant compensation.

He had been held initially on terrorism charges, which were later reduced to charges of incitement to violence.

“He just walked out of prison. We have confirmed that all charges against him have been dropped,” Mulatu Gemechu, a member of the OFC’s leadership told Reuters.

State-affiliated media confirmed that Bekele had been freed along with six other opposition figures (Gurmesa Ayana, Addisu Bulala, Dejene Taffa, Getu Garuma, Tesfaye Liben, and Beyene Ruda), and that the charges against him had been dropped. Ethiopia’s information minister was not available for comment.

Bekele’s release came amid a three-day strike across Oromia region, which surrounds the capital, as well as a mass pardoning of dissidents by the government aimed at reducing unrest that has simmered since 2015.

Nearly 6,000 prisoners have been freed since January, mainly people who had been detained for alleged involvement in unrest in Oromia, or, to a lesser extent, the Amhara region.

Bekele was sentenced last month to six months for contempt of court after he and other opposition members sang a protest song during their trial. Had he not been freed, a verdict on his incitement charge would have been handed down on March 7.

On Tuesday, large crowds marched in various towns in Oromia and roads remained blocked with large stones, including in the towns of Jimma, Woliso and Legetafo.

Continue reading this story at US News & World Report
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