State of Emergency paving the way for more understanding and reform

The State of Emergency Command Post disclosed over the weekend that a total of 9,800 suspects are being released, with the first round of 4,035 individuals freed on Wednesday (December 21). The Command Post, established to oversee the implementation of the six-month State of Emergency, had earlier disclosed that the people had been arrested because they were engaged in activities prohibited under the State of Emergency. These included inciting or contributing to violence, denying provision of public services, threatening the public, disrupting movement of vehicles, and causing damage to private and public property. Attacking security forces, using firearms, killing civilians and members of the security forces, as well as providing shelter to people who committed illegal activities or leading violence were also among activities leading to arrests. The total of first-round detainees was 11,607, and Siraj Fegessa, the Minister of Defense and Secretariat of the Command Post, said that 2,449 detainees would face justice.

Speaking to a group of released prisoners at Tolay, Oromia Regional State, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn emphasized that people were free to protest, but not to resort to violence.  He said: "You might have disagreements, be it with the government or government administration, and that is your right. No one can deprive you of this right. It is a right enshrined in the constitution." "So," he continued, "if tomorrow you have questions, you have the right to ask in a peaceful and civilized way." However, the Prime Minister emphasized, if there was anything that was prohibited, it was looking for answers using force, creating chaos and rebellion, and, he stressed, "you will pay a price for that." At the same time, speaking of the self-examination process the government is undergoing, the Prime Minister said: "We also have to go through deep rehabilitation similar to what you've gone through." He said, "We need to expand democracy. We have come to the conclusion that we have to allow discussions among the people, especially the youth, listen to their problems and provide solutions."

Although human rights' advocacy groups' and some critics have claimed that the State of Emergency was intended to legalize a government crackdown on opposition, it has in fact brought about a tremendous improvement in restoring peace and security. The country has now returned to the state that it was in before the violence broke out in some parts of Oromia and Amhara Regional States. The Government has carefully carried out all necessary efforts to ensure detainees will reintegrate with their communities.  The Deputy Minister of the Government Communication Affairs Office Zadig Abraha explained: "The detainees have been given lots of trainings that were meant to give them lessons so that they won't be part of the destructive trend that we have seen in the past." The Government said released detainees had expressed remorse and promised not only to abide by the Constitution but also to safeguard it by teaching others about the lessons learned during this training.

The Government disclosed in November that it has already begun to start working on a process of "deep reform" which will include shared and equitable economic growth, expansion of the democratic space and economic restructuring. A month ago, Prime Minister Hailemariam also noted that among those who had been engaged in the recent violent activities, youth accounted for some 99%. He also pointed out that those aged between 15 and 30 made up 50% of the population. The Government was, therefore, he said, working "aggressively" to provide more and more job opportunities with the creation of a fund of billions of birr to provide jobs.