AI REPORT 1997: ETHIOPIA


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 re-leased, 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 Associa-tion (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 mem-bers. 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.