Ethiopian amnesty law triggers prison riots

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(File, AP)
(File, AP)

Riots have broken out in six Ethiopian prisons after parliament passed a law granting amnesty to dissidents, state media said on Wednesday.

Over the past two days, inmates attempted to escape by lighting fires in the prisons, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.

A separate fire at a prison in the northern city of Mekele killed two people, Fana said, but it was unclear if the blaze was connected to the rioting.

"It is against the constitution and will hamper the peace, unity, and togetherness spirit of the people," government spokesperson Kassahun Gofe said of the unrest, according to Fana.

The violence came days after Ethiopia's parliament passed an amnesty for dissidents charged with crimes like treason and attacking the government.

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Kassahun said the rioting was due to a lack of "understanding" about the amnesty law.

The prisons affected by rioting were in the northern Amhara Region, the capital Addis Ababa and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region, Fana said.

The reprieve was part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's reform agenda that has seen Ethiopia's one-party government make peace with various opposition groups.

Since coming to power in April thousands of prisoners, including high-profile opponents, have been released.

Abiy has also announced a slew of economic reforms and led a dizzying peace process with neighbouring Eritrea.

Earlier this month, state media reported that prison chiefs had been sacked for "failing to discharge their responsibilities and respect prisoners' human rights".

The announcement came as Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm over torture, rape and starvation at a notorious prison in the country's volatile Somali region.

The reforms represent a stark departure for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) which, together with its allies, controls every seat in parliament.

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