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Amnesty International Report 1997 - Ethiopia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1997 - Ethiopia, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Hundreds of critics and opponents of the government were arrested, including prisoners of conscience. Some were brought to trial and sentenced to prison terms, but most political trials had not been completed by the end of the year. Most political prisoners were detained without charge or trial. The trial continued of 46 former government officials charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, but some 1,800 other former officials remained in detention without charge or trial. There were further reports of torture of government opponents and "disappearances" and extrajudicial executions by the security forces, particularly in areas of armed conflict. At least 13 death sentences were imposed, but there were no reports of executions.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government, established in 1995 after a four-year transitional period, continued to face armed opposition in some regions. Fighting continued between government forces and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the Oromo region and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region in the east. Anti-government violence by other groups continued. In August, September and December, government forces attacked the bases in Somalia of Al-ltihad, an Islamist organization which claimed responsibility for bombings in Ethiopia. Judicial reorganization, involving extensive dismissals of federal and regional court judges, seriously undermined the legal rights of political prisoners.

Ethiopia was one of only two African states not to have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Dozens of journalists were arrested in Addis Ababa, the capital, and held for investigation, in some cases for several months, before being charged and tried or granted bail. Seventeen were still held at the end of the year because of articles they had published, none of which advocated violence. They were prisoners of conscience. Most of the 17 were held without charge or trial, but three were tried and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. In March, Terefe Mengesha of Roha magazine was jailed for one year, shortly after completing a one-year prison term for a similar offence, and Solomon Lemma of Wolafen magazine was jailed for 18 months. They were both arrested because of articles reporting on armed opposition and were charged under the Press Law with "publishing false information in order to incite war and unrest".

Several hundred people suspected of supporting or belonging to the OLF were detained without trial. Among those arrested in February was Olana Bati, a lawyer, and previously a prisoner of conscience on several occasions. He was detained without charge for seven months in the town of Nekemte; he was finally hospitalized after repeated denial of medical treatment, and released. Two Oromo singers, Baharsitu Obsa and Shabbe Sheko, were arrested in February in Dire Dawa and Goba in Bale region. Hailu Tarfassa Tasse, an employee of the Ethiopian Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church, was detained in May. They were still held without charge or trial at the end of the year.

In some incidents the security forces arbitrarily detained hundreds of suspected government opponents. Most of them were released after some weeks of investigation, but others were held for longer periods without being brought to court. Scores of Somalis, including Roda Ibrahim, working in Somaliland for a British development agency, and Mohamed Osman, working in Angola for a Canadian relief agency, were detained without charge for some months after a hotel bombing in Addis Ababa in January for which Al-Itihad claimed responsibility. Mohamed Yusuf Ahmed, a UN consultant, was detained in January during a round-up of scores of Sudanese residents in Addis Ababa after a diplomatic clash between Ethiopia and Sudan. He was held for four months without charge. Abdi-Deq Shirreh Farah was one of several Somalis who were detained without charge or trial after an attempt to assassinate a government minister in July, for which Al-ltihad also claimed responsibility.

Scores of suspected ONLF members were detained in the Somali region of Ethiopia. In January, scores of people were arrested, including Abdi Ismail, a former district governor. In July, shortly after the announcement of an alliance between the OLF and the ONLF, Ali Bashe Abdi and Riyale Hamud Ahmed and 10 other members and former members of the regional parliament, were arrested in Jijiga and Dire Dawa. Elected as members of the ONLF party, they appeared to have been detained on suspicion of involvement in recent ONLF armed opposition. Most were still held incommunicado, without charge, at the end of the year, and there were fears for their safety.

In March, Abate Angore, an official of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA), and Kebede Desta, an official of the Retired Teachers' Association, were arrested shortly after the ETA had criticized government action against it and the detention and killing of scores of its members. Abate Angore was released without charge after two months but redetained in September and still held without charge at the end of the year. Taye Woldesmiate, ETA chairman and a former university professor, was arrested in May on his return to Ethiopia from Europe. He was held incommunicado until July when he and five others, including Kebede Desta, were charged with organizing violent anti-government activity in a clandestine group, the Ethiopia National Patriots' Front, a charge which he denied. The trial of all six, who were possible prisoners of conscience, started in October and continued at the end of the year.

Hundreds of suspected government opponents arrested in previous years continued to be detained. The trials of some, who were possible prisoners of conscience, proceeded slowly and were not completed by the end of the year. The trial in Ziwai of 285 members of the OLF who were detained in 1992 made little progress. The trial of Professor Asrat Woldeyes, chairman of the All-Amhara People's Organization, and 31 others for conspiracy to carry out armed rebellion had not concluded by the end of the year (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Sheikh Mohamed Awel Reja, Vice-President of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, and Mohamed Abdu Tuku, an engineering lecturer, were among 31 Muslim leaders on trial on a similar charge in connection with a violent disturbance at the Anwar mosque in Addis Ababa in 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Bayera Mideksa, an Oromo pharmacist held beyond his release date as the prosecutor sought an increase in his sentence, and Mengesha Dogoma, a southern politician charged with criminal violence but not yet tried, had both been in prison since 1992.

Hundreds of other political detainees arrested in previous years remained in detention without charge or trial throughout the year. They included Ahmed Mohamed Hussein (known as "Makahil"), a former Vice-President of the Somali region detained in Addis Ababa in 1995, and Hassan Ali Omar, Mayor of Shilabo, both thought to be detained for their suspected ONLF connections. Several suspected Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) members, including Lemma Haile – arrested in Addis Ababa in 1993 – and hundreds of OLF suspects, including Bogalech Tolosa and her sister, Bizunesh Tolosa – arrested in Nazareth in August 1995 – remained in custody without charge (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Scores of local government opponents arrested and tortured in Shakicho district in southwestern Ethiopia in November 1995 remained in detention. Seven Ethiopians were forcibly returned to Ethiopia from Djibouti in August, including Girmay Moges Newaye-Mariam, a refugee and former member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF); Muhyadin Muftah, a leader of the armed opposition Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front; and Hussein Ahmed Aydrus and five other ONLF supporters (see Dijbouti entry). They were detained on arrival in Ethiopia. Three other ONLF supporters, including Abdullahi Haliye, were deported from Somaliland in October and detained by the Ethiopian authorities (see Somalia entry).

Some political prisoners were released, including Sissay Agena, a journalist, whose one-year sentence expired in late 1996, and Said Hassan and three other EPRP members who had been detained since 1992 after being forcibly returned to Ethiopia from Sudan. Martha Arera, arrested in late 1995 with three other staff of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA), which was closed down by the government, were released in June without charge. Ahmed Mohamed, the ORA representative in Dire Dawa who "disappeared" after being arrested in Dire Dawa in February, was released in October. Mohamoud Muhumed Hashi, a former university lecturer detained in 1994 for alleged ONLF connections, was released in mid-1996.

The trial of 46 members of the former ruling Provisional Military Administrative Council (known as the Dergue) continued with lengthy adjournments during the year (see Amnesty International Report 1996). The Special Prosecutor presented evidence of extrajudicial executions ordered by the Dergue, including the killing of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1975 and of his former ministers and of EPRP members. Some 1,800 other former officials of the government of Mengistu Haile-Mariam (who is now in exile in Zimbabwe) accused of similar crimes remained in detention without charge. They included Mammo Wolde, a former Olympic athlete, Alemayehu Teferra, a former university president, Aberra Yemane-Ab, an opposition leader who had returned from exile, and Mekonnen Dori, a southern opposition politician and former vice-minister in the post-1991 Transitional Government.

Reports were received of torture by the security forces while interrogating suspected government opponents. Suspected members of the OLF and ONLF were particular targets of torture. Hussein Ahmed Aydrus and Abdullah Haliye were allegedly tortured after being returned from Djibouti and Somaliland respectively (see above). Political prisoners were held in harsh conditions, particularly in regional prisons and unofficial secret interrogation centres, and two of them (see above) – Taye Woldesmiate and Aberra Yemane-Ab (detained since his return from exile in the USA in 1993) – were kept permanently chained in Addis Ababa Central Prison.

There were further reports of "disappearances" of government opponents abducted by gunmen believed to be members of the security forces. Among those who remained "disappeared" at the end of the year was Kumsa Burayu, an Oromo journalist, who "disappeared" in Addis Ababa in January.

The fate of dozens of other people who "disappeared" after the overthrow of the government of Mengistu Haile-Mariam remained unknown. Among them were OLF suspects Mustafa Idris and Yoseph Ayele Bati; Hagos Atsbeha, detained by the TPLF in 1988; Deeg Yusuf Kariye, an ONLF journalist; and Tsegay Gebre-Medhin and other EPRP officials (see Amnesty International Report 1996).

There were numerous reports of extrajudicial executions by the security forces, particularly in the areas of armed conflict in the Oromo and Somali regions. Ebissa Adunya, an Oromo singer killed at his home in Addis Ababa by soldiers in August, appeared to have been extrajudicially executed on suspicion of supporting the OLF.

No investigations were known to have taken place into allegations of torture, "disappearance" or extrajudicial execution.

Three members of an Egyptian Islamist organization – Abdulkarim al-Naji Abdelradi, Al-Arab Sadiq Hafiz and Safwat Hassan Abdelghani – were sentenced to death in September after a six-month trial in camera. They were convicted of attempting to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in June 1995 and of killing two Ethiopian police officers. Their appeal to the Supreme Court had not been heard by the end of the year. At least 10 other people were sentenced to death by regional courts. No executions were reported of any people condemned to death since 1991.

An Amnesty International delegate visited Ethiopia in May to observe the Dergue trial and examine other judicial proceedings against government opponents. In July, Amnesty International published a report on the trial and the detentions of other former officials, Ethiopia: Human rights trials and delayed justice – the case of Olympic gold medallist Mammo Wolde and hundreds of other uncharged detainees. Amnesty International expressed concern that the Dergue trial was proceeding so slowly and criticized the delay in charging the other detainees.

Throughout the year Amnesty International appealed for the release of prisoners of conscience and for fair and prompt trials of other political detainees. The organization again called for urgent and impartial investigations into "disappearances" since 1991 and allegations of torture and extrajudicial executions by the security forces. It urged the government to abolish the death penalty, not to apply the death penalty in the trials of former officials, and to commute death sentences. The government did not respond to any of these appeals.

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