Horror stories of torture hound Ethiopia as it proclaims commitment to reform – By NICK WADHAMS

May 29th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

“They appoint judges who have no legal knowledge of law, who learn about the law for six months and sit at the court.” (more…)

“They appoint judges who have no legal knowledge of law, who learn about the law for six months and sit at the court.”

NEKEMTE, ETHIOPIA — During the six months that 25-year-old Aman was detained in an Addis Ababa prison, he alleges, police kicked and punched him and kept him for weeks on end in a tiny cell with his hands bound as if always in prayer.

Then there was the day that Aman, a second-year law student at the time, went before a judge and found himself correcting her on the Ethiopian criminal code. She had granted prosecutors’ request to detain him for three weeks of investigation, a week longer than the law allows.

“I could not have words to express the situation, it is so difficult,” said Aman, who was never charged with a crime and eventually released.

“They appoint judges who have no legal knowledge of law, who learn about the law for six months and sit at the court.”

This is the state of affairs in today’s Ethiopia. Interviews with dozens of people across the country, coupled with testimony given to diplomats and human-rights groups, paint a picture of a nation that, despite government claims to the contrary, jails its citizens without reason or trial, tortures many of them and habitually violates its own laws. The government was also severely criticized for a 2005 crackdown in which tens of thousands of opposition members were jailed and nearly 200 people killed after elections in which the opposition made major gains.

But many Western governments that do business with Ethiopia, including Canada and the United States, maintain that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government is committed to democratic and human-rights reforms. The United States has even worked with Ethiopia’s jailers; the Bush administration recently acknowledged that CIA and FBI officials interrogated suspected terrorists there who had fled the fighting in Somalia.

Canada says that one of its citizens, Bashir Makhtal, is one of Ethiopia’s prisoners. Although reports so far indicate he has not been tortured, Canadian diplomats say they have not been allowed to visit Mr. Makhtal. The International Committee of the Red Cross is also barred from visiting federal prisons.

People interviewed across Ethiopia recounted stories of torture: electric shocks, beatings with rubber clubs, police who held guns to prisoners’ heads, mutilation or pain inflicted on the genitals.

One man said police arrested him because he played too much ping pong; they began to suspect that he was recruiting people to a rebel group while he played. Another described 17 days of electric shocks on his legs and back, followed by beatings with rubber truncheons. He never learned his crime, but suspects he was targeted for his refusal to join Mr. Meles’s ruling EPRDF party.

“They took us turn by turn to a dark place, and they would shock us and say, ‘What do you think now? You won’t change your ways now? Do you want to be a member of our party now?’ ” said the man, Tesfaye. He refused to give his last name for fear of being rearrested.

Ethiopian officials dismiss stories of torture as lies, and have expelled many foreign journalists and representatives of human-rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The country’s Culture and Tourism Minister, Mohamoud Dirir, recently accused the Western media of giving one-sided information “magnifying the negative.”

Bereket Simon, a top adviser to Mr. Zenawi, echoed that theme. He said it’s in the interests of rights groups to lie about the situation, and he rejected the idea that torture occurs in Ethiopia.

“No way. No way. No way. I think you know, these are prohibited by laws, by Ethiopian laws, …” Mr. Bereket said. “In fact, we have been improving on our prison standards. We’ve been working hard to train the police forces, the interrogators.”

Yet claims of the abuses are widespread. The U.S. State Department’s 2006 human-rights report for Ethiopia cited “numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees.” It included more than 30 pages of detailed accounts of violations, ranging from the beating of teenagers to arbitrary arrests to the banning of theatre performances that send the wrong political message.

European diplomats and employees of Western aid groups, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they keep quiet about abuses because they fear the government will freeze them out of aid work. About 2.8 million of Ethiopia’s 75 million people depend on foreign food aid.

U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto said in an interview that he wants to investigate claims of abuse, but warned against making allegations without proof.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about Ethiopia. I mean it’s amazing,” Mr. Yamamoto said. “The problem comes in trying to divide or separate what is fact and what’s fiction, and trying to keep an open mind on every issue.”

  1. Mimi
    | #1

    The carton above paints the exact portrait of Meles Zenawi. He is a nightmare and cancer for mother Ethiopia. Now, the bunch of people that work for him should ask themselves, if they really want to associate with this nightmare of a nation. They also should know that nightmare will go a way, when the day light takes over. It can’t be dark all the time, and Meles has no control over that…

  2. | #2

    Obviously in our mother land, Ethiopia, our people have never been enjoying free and fair legislation process since 1991. I agree with Mimi. The above cartoon paints and reflects the true portrait of Meles Zenawi and his cadres mostly top officials like bereket, abadula, mesfin,mohammad and et.. All top TPLF cadres should ask themselves, if they are really walking on the right track and bringing up true transparncy ,visible economic growth.They should ask themselves whether they and their cadres are free from corruption and restricted by laws and constitutions. It can’t be all the time winner or it can’t be succesful due to agazi tor all the time, and Melles, CIA and Tony Blair have no power to control over the unity of the people and the world.

    God bless Ethiopia.

  3. fish
    | #3

    �ጋዴ :ሲከስር :የአባቱን :መቃብር :ይ�ሳ� ባንዳ :ሲከስር :የቀይ -ሽብር :አጥንትን :ይጎለጉላ� ::

  4. hailye
    | #4

    Please all u Ethiopians, Let’s march towards a solution rather than talking and painting. We will bring nothing this way. As you all know our beloved leaders have carried out their turn. It is ours now to stand together rather than retreating (completely denying)like the artist that we know and some other deniers.

  5. gininu
    | #5

    dear mimi,nahom and fellow wogenochai the solution is in our hand I JUST CANNOT UNDERSTAND why we are ferewoch? if u are intersted say yes and let give hailyes opinon fertilazer .i am looking for ward mimi.

    | #6

    Meles zenawi is committed genocide to the people of ethiopia. His days are counted not in years or days but his time is counted in nanosecond. He will face justice in the near future for the crimes he committed.
    Zenawi and his supporters will be defeated.
    Death to the tryannt.

  7. Mimi
    | #7

    Dear hailye and gininu, both of you guys suggested that it is time for all Ethiopians to move forward to the solution of our problems. I totally agree with you guys on that, but it is equally important to ask what cause the complex problems that we are facing as Ethiopians. In my opinion we Ethiopians as people in general kind of luck rational thinking, objectivity and consistency. For example think about what our heroes the Kinijit leaders have been doing. They come up with a sound solution for the major Ethiopia problems. That is deep rational thinking. They stay together around their manifesto and 8 points resolution. That is objectivity. And, they didn’t mind to go to jail or give their life for the cause that they believe in. That is consistency. That is why I respect them, love them, and would like to follow their lead. Now, the question is how many of us Ethiopians have the characters that the Kinijit leaders have been demonstrating? How many of us are like Lidetu or Solomon who are poster children of self centrism and willing to do or say anything as long as they are the center of the attention?
    Now, once again I think the solutions for our problems come first from having the right attitude. In short those attitudes are: being open minded with rational thinking, think objectively, and be consistent on the cause we believe in (stay the course)If we manage to have these characters, it is easy to work together with others in harmony and bring a major change in our country political dynamic. After all, Democracy has to come from with in. And it is only natural to get what we deserve.

    This is just my opinion, I could be wrong, but let us talks about it!


  8. fish
    | #8

    Tony Blair’s honeymoon with Meles Zenawi is over. As the Guardian puts it, the countries that Mr. Blair is not visiting on his final tour is instructive. It is indeed instructive. Blair does not want to end his legacy with a tarnished image. What is more damaging than being considered a close associate of Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi.

  9. | #9

    Dear friends.

    I like to thank for your invaluable comments. Neverthless, I totally agree with your ideas, it is also important to fight totalitarian regime by means of communication not only for reflecting how and when it could be but also to build up an effort and support from international peace lovers.

    Bad politics create bad consequences, but because linking the effect with the cause implicates the initiators, the tendency is often to attribute man-made disasters to unrelated circumstances.

    Let me create the room for discussion and positive arguments

    God bless Ethiopia.

  10. Mesfin
    | #10

    Dear Nahom, I agree with you on the idea of having open communication, discussion and positive arguments are major ways of fighting totalitarian regime. Just because wherever there is a constrictive arguments and exchange of information, there will be a consensus about what to do next. I also would like to point out that constructive argument is a singe of a civil manner which Woyanne lucks both inside and out.

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