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January 3, 2018
Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced Wednesday that the country plans on freeing and pardoning all political prisoners, in an attempt to "foster national reconciliation."

Ethiopia has never publicly admitted to having any political prisoners, NPR reports. Desalegn said those who are already under arrest and facing prosecution will be released, and the "notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum." The detention center "essentially functioned as a torture chamber," Amnesty International's Fisseha Tekle told NPR, "used by the Ethiopian authorities to brutally interrogate anybody who dares to dissent including peaceful protestors, journalists, and opposition figures."

Since 2015, protesters have been holding demonstrations against government development plans near the capital of Addis Ababa and corruption. Hundreds have been killed and at least 29,000 people were arrested during a 10-month period last year. Activists say are heartened by the government's announcement, but are waiting to see if they actually go through with releasing the prisoners. Catherine Garcia