Ethiopia’s opposition politician Bekele Gerba is not legible for release until next month and may not be released until next year, Horn Affairs learnt.

Bekele Gerba, former dep. Chairperson of Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), was detained in August 27, 2011. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on charges of “provocation crimes against the state” and collaborating with the Oromo Liberation Front, an organization designated as terrorist by Ethiopian Parliament.

The sentence was reduced to three years and seven months after Bekele appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

There have been claims on social media that Bekele was supposed to be released on probation last weekend, but has been kept in prison for bureaucratic reasons.

Public Relations officer of the Federal Prison Administration Commission contradicted the claims.

Addisu Tedros told Horn Affairs today that:

“A prisoner’s release on probation is determined based on a thorough evaluation and finally submitted to court for approval. However, Bekele Gerba’s case has not reached that stage yet.

If Bekele Gerba is to be released on probation it would not be sooner than February 10, 2014. Otherwise, his prison term will end on May 11, 2015.”

Asked whether the dates are counted correctly, the officer added that it is based on a computerized data base.

On the other hand, a senior official in the Ethiopian government told Horn Affairs that Bekele Gerba won’t be released on probation.

The official, speaking off-the-record, said that: “The government has no intention of releasing [Bekele Gerba] until he completes the full prison term.”

No more pre-release of prisoners?

The Ethiopian government has not released any high-profile prisoner since the pardon for the two Swedish journalists on September 2012, when Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was still an acting PM. Though tens of thousands have been granted pardon on the eve of the Ethiopian New Year, last September, there are reports that the government rejected the petition for pardon by journalist Wubshet Taye and opposition politician Zerihun G/Egiziabher.

Remarking on the matter, during an exclusive interview with Horn Affairs last week, Minister Rewan Husien claimed that this doesn’t mean that the government has closed the door on pre-release of prisoners.

Referring to the high-profile prisoners, Redwan added:
“Currently, the government has not arrived at a conclusion that there is anyone who is ready to change, who has been corrected and who has reached a point of becoming an example to others. But that doesn’t mean we won’t reach a different conclusion at some future date.”

Though Redwan was commenting on pardon – which is technically different from a release on probation -, both matters lie under the discretion of the government. Thus, presumably subject to similar raison d’etre.


Daniel Berhane

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