ETHIOPIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Phone. 251-1 514489 / 517704 TeleFax: +251-1 514539 E-mail: sewr @padis.gn.apc.org P.O.Box 2432 Addis Ababa -ETHIOPIA

ILLEGAL DETENTION

Special Report No. 15
May 27, 1997

Bahtawi Fekade-Selassie Tesfaye was shot dead at St. Estifanos Church on January 9, 1997. The killers' identity is not unknown because the bahtawi (hermit) was killed in front of the congregation who had gathered there for prayer on the patron Saint's day. In connection with this incident several bahtawis were detained by the police. The identity of the killers has been reported to EHRCO by eye witnesses.

However, the police left the killers at large and instead detained several bahtawis, including Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel Haile-Meskel, who was not around at the time, Bahtawi Sofonias Gume and other individuals who are said to have connections with the bahtawis. Bahtawi Sofonias Gume has been detained since the death of Bahtawi Fekade-Sellassie while Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel has also been held at a police station since January 18, 1997 without any court order. Nine of the other detainees have been released on bail. However, Bahtawis Gebre-Meskel and Sofonias are still under police custody.

On April 18, 1997 the Federal First Instance Court, 2nd bench, ruled on file no. 197/89 that both bahtawis be released on bail, provided they each deposit birr 2,000 (two thousand) or produce guarantors for this sum. Accordingly, both bahtawis deposited the surety required for bail and consequently on April 21, 1997 the Court gave the following order to Addis Ababa Administration Police Commission to release them:

1st Since Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel Haile-Meskel has deposited a surety of birr 2,000 (two thousand) as evidenced by Model 85 receipt no. 28405;

2nd Since Bahtawi Sofonias Gume has deposited a surety of birr 2,000 (two thousand) as evidenced by Model 85 receipt no. 28915, ... the Court has ordered that they be released.

However, Addis Ababa Administration Police Commission ignored the Court order and refused to release the two bahtawis. As a result the Court again gave the following order to the police on April 22, 1997.

The Court has ordered that the head of the police department appear before the Federal First Instance Court, 2nd bench, and explain the reason why he defied the Court's order and failed to release Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel Haile-Meskel et al.

However, the police defied this order, too. Hence, the Court had to give the following order for the third time:

The Court has again ordered that the head of the police department appear before the Federal First Instance Court, 2nd bench, on 30/4/97 and explain the reason why he defied the Court's order and refused to release Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel et al.

As usual the police ignored the Court's order and refused to release the bahtawis. Without loosing hope the Court gave the fourth order:

In the criminal case of Bahtawi Sofonias Gume et al. the Court has ordered that the head of the police department appear before the Federal First Instance Court, 2nd bench, on 12/5/97 and give an explanation as to why he has refused to obey the Court's order.

The Court's order was ignored for the fourth time. Hence, the Court gave the following fifth order:

In the criminal case of Bahtawi Sofonias Gume et al. the Court has granted bail. However, the police did not inform the Court if it has discovered new facts. Hence, the Court has ordered that Lieutenant Ayalew appear before the Federal First Instance Court, 2nd bench, on 20/5/97 and explain the reasons why the police refused to release them. If he fails to appear, the Court would hold him responsible for obstructing the judicial process.

However, the police did not take seriously the Court's order which was sent to it for the fifth time. Instead they transferred the bahtawis from Addis Ababa Administration Criminal Investigation Department to Woreda 18 Police Station and detained them there. Moreover, they applied to the Federal First Instance Court, 3rd bench, to allow them to detain the bahtawis on the ground that they have not yet completed their investigation, in spite of the fact that the bahtawis have been detained for over four months, the investigation had been completed and the bahtawis had been granted bail. However, on May 21, 1997 the Court rejected the police application for a remand. The Court gave the following reason for rejecting the police application:

The file shows that a complaint was lodged against the accused on January 9, 1997. The preamble of the police investigation file discloses that the first accused had said that he was not at the scene of the incident and that the second accused has said that he has already given his statement to Region 14 Police Commission Criminal Investigation Department and that he has been granted bail, and thus there was no reason why he should give another statement again. The case had been instituted against the accused on January 9, 1997. They had already given their statements to the police and it had been decided that they be released on bail. In view of these facts the Court would not accept the police request for a remand.

In spite of the fact that the 3rd bench of the First Instance Court has turned down the police request, Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel et al have not been released to date.

Although the police were thus blatantly violating the basic rights of citizens, the Federal Police Deputy Commissioner for Crime Prevention, Major Alemseged Gebre-Yohannes, stated the following in an interview with the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA):
Members of the police force are working to their level best to safeguard rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution. ... There were problems earlier at a time when the judiciary and the police were not well organised, but prompt corrective measures were taken to address the problems... Policemen, contrary to former practices, were recruited following public appraisals for their discipline and good manners and this by and large has made their service popular. (see The Ethiopian Herald, Thursday, 22 May 1997.)

On May 8, 1997 at 8:30 a.m. Ato Assefa Maru was killed by the police on the street, just about a kilometre away from his house, while he was walking to his office. (See EHRCO's Special Report No. 14 issued on May 13, 1997.) Addis Ababa University students were tortured by the police at Shogele Meda. (See EHRCO's Special Report No. 12 issued on March 27, 1997.) Bahtawi Ameha-Yesus Gebre-Yohannes has been detained by the police since September 13, 1993. (See EHRCO's Report issued on January 4, 1994.) In view of these gross human rights violations, the Deputy Commissioner's claim that members of the police force are working to their level best to safeguard the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution is unbelievable.

Article 14 of the Constitution of the FDRE states that "Every person has the inviolable and inalienable right to liberty." Article 19(6) of the same Constitution provides that "Arrested persons have the right to be released on bail." Article 9(2) also states that "All citizens, organs of the State ... have the duty to insure observance of the Constitution and to obey it" However, these constitutional provisions have not been respected by the police. The wrongs done to Bahtawi Gebre-Meskel et al confirm that the police are not working to their level best to safeguard citizens' rights enshrined in the Constitution. Instead they are violating them deliberately.

Therefore, EHRCO asks the government to ensure that the police respect in deeds, and not in words, the constitutionally guaranteed human rights of citizens and to release the illegally detained bahtawis Gebre-Meskel Haile-Meskel, Sofonias Gume, and Ameha-Yesus Gebre-Yohannes.

EHRCO also calls on all supporters of human rights to press the Ethiopian government to release the illegally detained bahtawis.

CC: Council of People's Representatives
P. O. Box 80001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Tel: (251-1) 55 30 00

His Excellency Dr. Negasso Gidada
President of the FDRE
P. O. Box 1031, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Fax: (251-1) 55 20 30


His Excellency Ato Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister of the FDRE
P. O. Box 1031, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Fax: (251-1) 55 20 30

His Excellency Ato Mahteme Solomon
Minister of Justice
P. O. Box 1370, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Fax: (251-1) 55 07 22

His Excellency Ato Kemal Bedri
President of the Supreme Court
P. O. Box 6166, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Fax: (251-1) 55 07 28