Torture and Horrific Abuses in Ethiopian Prisons

By Betre Y. Getahun

Journalists, bloggers and politicians are locked in solitary confinement and subjected to torture, and various abuses  and ill-treatments at the hands of prisons’ officials in Ethiopia, A new investigation has learned.

A detailed report of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) has delivered a scathing assessment of Ethiopia’s treatment of prisoners, particularly political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The report records harrowing accounts of intimidation, verbal and physical harassment and torture: “In prison, detainees are subjected to a range of ill-treatment which includes torture; harassment on grounds of ethnicity and political views; prolonged legal process; and denial of medical access which sometimes led to death.”  

The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) is a non-governmental, non-partisan, and non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of human rights. Yesterday’s report released by this group is the first to detail the horrific torture practices of the Ethiopian regime. The investigation was conducted at the Qilinto, Maekelawi, Shewa Robit, and Zeway prisons.

The report states that the tortures are mainly practiced to extract confessions during interrogations in order to implicate detainees in an alleged crime: “It is also sometimes used as a form of punishment. Many have reported that security officers tortured them by hanging them on a ceiling, putting them in a solitary confinement for hours; beating them with sticks, electric cables, and other hard objects; or tying water bottles to men’s testicles.” 

The Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) interviewed several detainees and included these accounts in their report. 

“The stories demonstrate the multi-faceted forms and attributes of the ill-treatment. Prisoners are maltreated and abused based on their ethnic identity; on alleged involvement with terrorist groups; based on their religious grounds; based on gender identity and more. This signals the seriousness and pervasiveness of the problem.” The report stated.

A 42-year old, Abebe Kasse, told to AHRE that the torture sessions began with security officers the first day I was arrested. “I was arrested on January 20, 2014, and was taken to Maekelawi. I remained at Maekelawi for more than five months and endured excruciating torture. The interrogators demanded that I tell them everything about my involvement with PG7. They injected something into my body and I passed out. When I finally woke up, some of my finger nails were gone. They later pulled out the rest of my finger- and toe nails while I was conscious. They also tied my hands and legs, tied me upside down in a freezing room located below the interrogation room, and left me there for some time. Then they came one by one and swung my body to the left and right.”

 “At different times, men and women tied my feet and hands to a chair. Once a group of women came naked into the room, undressed me, and sat me naked on the chair. They chained my hands up and tied a water bottle to my testicles. Then they kept swinging the bottle to the left and right. They also did something unmentionable to me while they were taking drugs. I am now castrated, and unable to be a father.”

Abebe continues: “I was very sick for many days. They refused to provide medical treatment, alleging that as an ethnic Tigrean, I should have never been a member of a terrorist organization; therefore, denying me medical treatment was my punishment.”

Bisrat Abera is another prisoner who gave his testimony to AHRE. He is a 32 years old man who is in prison and a victims of the regime: “I was taken to Shewa Robit prison after a Qilinto fire incident…They started beating me as soon as I entered the car; they were alleging that I had killed somebody during the fire outbreak. Once we reached Shewa Robit, they took me to a room and tied my two thumbs together; then they chained my hands and put them behind my legs. Then they put a long stick between my hands and knees, and hung the stick I was hanging on, between two pillars. Then they began rotating my body against the stick; they tortured me so badly. They also electrocuted me with a cable… Later, they handcuffed me and hung me from a ceiling. They tied one of my feet against the wall and left my other foot hanging in the air, leaving a painful pressure on my foot, and then they beat me. The beating continued for three days. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and admitted to killing the person they alleged I had  killed, a crime I didn’t commit.”

This report stress that the torture of detainees in various prisons in Ethiopia have soared following the wide-scale protests in the last few years, particularly in Amhara and Oromia regions. 

Under international law, torture is a serious crime under  universal jurisdiction. The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) requires nations to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction.

The prohibition against torture in international law is, like that against slavery or genocide, absolute. Torture is impermissible under any circumstances, including war, public emergency or terrorist threat. Although the prohibition is so strong and universally accepted that it is now a fundamental principle of international law, this practice is common in Ethiopia and the lives of too many journalists, bloggers and politicians are being destroyed.