October 9, 1994
On Tuesday, September 20, 1994, Professor Asrat was to be
brought from the prison, where he is already serving a two-year
sentence, to the High Court to stand for another charge. There
were about a couple of thousand members of AAPO, the All-Amhara
People's Organisation, of which he is the President, supporters
and friends. As normal in any court of law, there were also
people who were there for their own personal reasons.
When Professor Asrat was brought to the court his supporters
received him with applaud and "Free Asrat!" cry. Once
he was taken into the court, the supporters maintained a
disciplined silence. It was at this time that the police took the
1. Armed police surrounded the compound of the court, closed the
gates and prevented anyone from leaving or entering.
2. The people inside the compound were herded together by the
police, without any consideration of age or sex, beaten with
clubs and forced on trucks and taken to Kolfe, the former Police
3. Among those arrested in the fashion described above were
elderly persons who were inside the court house and who did not
know what was going on outside the court room.
4. At Kolfe the people who numbered several hundred were herded
in a football field until about 6:00 p.m. without any food or
drink. It was raining and there was no attempt to take them to
where they could have shelter.
5. In the evening they were provided with one blanket for two
persons, 200 gms. of bread for each and were put into classrooms
and spent the night in a congested condition.
6. On the early morning of September 21, at 5:00 a.m. they were
again forced on trucks and taken to Sendaffa, the Police College
which now, off and on, serves as a prison.
7. At Sendaffa they were not given any food until the evening.
8. With the blankets they received (one for two) at Kolfe, they
were placed in three poorly ventilated rooms with cement floor
and in a very congested condition.
9. In the morning hours they were forced to do what was called
physical exercise and beaten when they could not.
10. They were threatened and forced to shave their heads.
11. They were kept in Sendaffa without any visit from families,
relatives and, friends and without any visit by lawyers for about
two weeks. During this period they were not allowed to have food,
medicines or clothing from their homes. No charges were brought
against them nor were they brought before a court of justice as
provided by law until this report released.
These actions taken against peaceful citizens are unjust and
illegal for the following reasons:
1. The official explanation that the people in
the High Court were staging an unauthorised demonstration is not
correct. The people were there not to demonstrate but to give
moral support to Professor Asrat and to follow the proceedings.
Moreover, there were also persons who had nothing to do with the
case of Professor Asrat. Even if the gathering of people in the
High Court was assumed to be a demonstration there was no legal
basis for treating all the people indiscriminately in such a
severe manner. There are civilised and legal procedures that
could be taken.
2. If any action taken by the people could be considered as a
contempt of court, the court could have taken legal steps. The
fact that there was no case of contempt of court is proven not
only by the fact that the court did not take any measure, but
also by the fact that the court proceedings ended without any
3. In the police explanation of September 29, 1994, it was
alleged that the people were engaged in an act of
"huket" or "usurpation or interference." The
use of the Amharic term "huket" or its equivalent
"usurpation or interference" betrays the proper
understanding of the law. That term, according to the Ethiopian
Civil Code, refers to civil matters only so as to give protection
to the right of ownership or possession and not to demonstration,
if ever there was one. The people gathered in the court compound
had the right to be in a court of law to attend court
4. The attempt by the attorney general's office to justify the
actions of the police is an unfortunate breach of due process,
the law and legal ethics. The attorney general's office cannot
provide any opinion, let alone justifications for police actions,
before the investigations by the police are completed and a
criminal act established.
5. The excesses of the police such as shaving the heads of the
people and subjecting them to various forms of indignity, keeping
them incommunicado , denying them to get food, medicines and
clothing from their homes, forcing them to do physical exercises
are further violations of the rights provided in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights accepted "without any
condition" by the Charter. It is also alarming that children
were among those arrested and subjected to similar treatment.
6. If the police allegation that the people were engaged in a
demonstration were true, then no attempt was made by the police
to disperse the people in accordance with police regulations.
7. If the courts are free and if it is the right of every citizen
to attend court proceedings, then the actions of the police in
closing the gates and preventing people from leaving and entering
the court compound throw much doubt on both the freedom of the
courts and the right of people to be in court.
What took place in the High Court compound on September 20 and at
Kolfe and Sendaffa subsequently seem to indicate that the rule of
law and due process are being sacrificed for political ends.
On October 6, 1994 Professor Asrat was again
brought to the same High Court. There were a few hundred persons
in court. The police this time ordered the people to remain in
only one place and prevented them from moving freely for about
On October 6, 1994, after a team of the International Red Cross
Committee visited the detainees in Sendaffa they were again taken
to Kolfe and allowed visits by families.