The following is a translation of an interview of Ato Tamagne Beyene with the Amharic news
magazine Tobia (#31, Sene 27, 1988). The same article later appeared in the Ethiopian Register magazine.|
"Who gave them the right to imprison us, torture us, and do as they please?" is a question every Ethiopian should ask of himself. The solution to the problem is not to say that we have given the judgment to God in heaven while we prepare ourselves to the ungodly punishment on earth. Tamagne goes on to share his views to Ethiopians by stating, "The police, the other authorities, and I are of equal birth to this country; knowing this, every one should ask on what claim of superior birthright are they imprisoning and torturing me." Tamagne Beyene has given us a detailed description of how he was picked up and torturned by the TPLF authorities after he walked out of the soccer stadium. He is featured in our journal for the second time. Let us follow his story:
Question: Could you tell us in detail what happened to you as you watched the soccer matches and subsequently when you were imprisoned?
Tamagne: Like any sport fan, I had paid for my ticket and went to watch a soccer match, the final Youth Match between Ethiopia and Uganda, on June 24, 1996 (Sene 16, 1988). Those of us who buy annual tickets know each other and take seats in the same area. Next to me sat an individual dressed in civil attire (plainclothes man). As we watched the soccer matches, I saw an official from the stadium talk to the plainclothes man beside me. Subsequently, the coordinator of the security police of the stadium talked to the plainclothes man next to me. Since I did not feel good about the goings on next to me, I left the stadium at half time when the players vacated the filed to take a recess. The plainclothes man, who sat next to me, followed me and ordered me:
"Stop, don't move", I asked him, "Why?"
"You are wanted", he said. When I started to inquire who wanted me and why I was wanted, the security coodinator was at my back. He ordered:
"Go straight to the car without seeing left or right. I will shoot you in your forehead if you give signas to any one."
As ordered, I went straight to a police Merecedes truck that was parked in front of the Stadium Tribune. I sat in the parked truck until the end of the games. Shortly thereafter, they brought different individuals from separate directions. People were siging as they walked out of the stadium, when that security coordinator ordered me:
"Make yourself inconspicuous and sit in the middle of the crowd. If you are noticed by anyone I will shoot you in the forehead."
Then armed policement surrounded us and put us in canvas covered police vehicles and drove off. We did not know where we were going. We arrived at a house with a big yard where we were interrogated. The man who was interrogating us seemed to me to be the chief officer of the police. when he asked, "your profession?" I answered "artist", which caused him to comment to the guy beside him, "As this reminds me of a man I was told about, please go and phone and confirm." The guy left, made the call and returned to tell him, "He is called Tamagne Beyene", at which point I was ordered:
"Get out", He asked for my ethnic origin. When I did not respond he slapped me. The I told him the place of my birth. When they inquired, "Are you afraid to tell us your ethnic origin", I responded, "I don't know." They said, "You shall be made to know."
After a few seconds, the coordinator of the stadium security police arrived with other policemena in a car. After making the prisoners line up in two files, he asked all to leave the area and took me aside first. He then selected other young and well groomed individuals to be kept with me. As I heard later, the torture master of the camp was ordered by the security coordinator, "to torture this particular group severely".
Thereafter, the torture inflicted on us was indescribable. We were asked to run the muddy field. We were pushed and rolled in the mud. When we tried to stand up we were flogged and pushed back in the mud. After roughtly one hour and 40 minutes of such torture, I told them that I was physically unable to continue. I was then given to the care of another policeman.
This policeman had received yet another new letter and he beat me up to his satisfaction, and delivered me to the coordinator of the security police. This officer asked me to place my feet on a chair and my hands on the ground. I was so weak and my body was shaking as that officer jumped on my back and he threw me to the ground.
"Are you the one that criticized Tamrat Layne? We have arrived to the conclusion that three years ago you had organized people and have called him a thief. What did Tamrat do to you?" was what he said to me.
After that I told him that I was weak and unable to respond and pleaded to him in the name of Saint Mary and Jesus to kill me if he can. "That is not befitting you", he said and picked up another stick and hit me until it was broken to pieces. All such torture lasted about 3 hours. Our body was covered with mud and we were wet.
"The torture will continue. We have been patient with you for five years and since democracy is unfit for you the torure will continue," he told us. And as he walked away, he ordered:
"Take them in and interrogate them further." Shortly after we entered into the hall, I was ordered not mingle with anyone but sit alone. He gave orders to others, "Let no one talk to him."
The hall was cement covered on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. As I determined later by pacing across the hall, it was 85 paces long. Those who were imprisoned before us congregated on the right, my batch was on the left, while I was made to sit alone in the middle. The police checked on me every so often to ascertain that the orders were carried out.
Since our clothes were muddy and wet, we had to dry them and sleep naked on the floor. At about midnight, other prisoners placed their hands on me to warm me up and to stop me from shivering. This continued until about 4:00 am when heavy rains began to pour. We wouldn't stand the cold. We had nothing to wear. Luckily, someone had with him a 4-page journal called "Inter.Sport". We tore up the paper and placed pieces of it in our ears as we attempted to sleep on the floor. Exhausted from the troture and the inclement weather, I was napping when a policeman hit me and woke me up. We were ordered to go out of the hall. The field was flooded from the rain.
They restared their torurous routine of making us run in the field and beating us up. We were on the filed by 4:45 am. A new rorture master was assigned to deal with us. All kinds of sport like activities of running, sitting, jumping in the mud were experimented on us. Throughout these activities, special orders were given to beat me up at every turn. This torture was halted at about 7:30 am.
They took us out to the porch so that we may get warmed by the sun. Because I was unable to santd, I requested to be allowed to sit and sat on the ground. The policeman who was at the porch asked, "Are you tired?" When I replied, "Yes, he retorted, "Isn't your body as strong as your tongue?" Notice that we were physically tortured beginning last night and now in the morning they continue their verbal derision while we have not eaten any food yet. We were hoping that they would release us at any time. However, another round of torture began in the afternoon.
We were ordered to get out of the hall. It was a different kind of torture that was inflicted on us this time. Two youngsters and I were selected and were ordered to carry on our necks like oxen, a piece of metal that was about 10 meters long and weighed 20 kilograms. We were asked to run in the field as we were flogged from behind. Then we were asked to sit, run, sit and run again. When I was physically incapable to continue and sat down, the others let go of the metal piece while they were standing so that the metal hit me on the back of my neck and I fell flat.
"Why did you fall" was the question asked of me by a policeman who beat me up until he got tired and summoned another policemena to take over the beating. Words cannot explain the torture I went through. They were beating me up for whatever reason. When I fell in the mud, they were kicking me with their military boots, including on my head.
Note: I want stress that Ato Tamagne's story is very long, however, in fairness to all of you, let me go to the specifics:
Since his arrival, the boss said many things as a politican and as a representative of the regime. He insulted and admonished me for about forty minutes. He siad that I revolted against the peole's democracy, that I organized people to rebuke Tamrat Layne, that he was patinet with me over the last five years, and that his patience has run out. Although the boss gave me all kinds of naes, I respected him for not beating me up.
Henceforth, anyone who tells me about the democracy in Ethiopia or about the respect of human rights in Ethiopia is a mentally incapacitated person to me. The regime tells us on television how officials of the previous regime who participated in "destroying grous of people, and in killing people" are placed in jails where they are fed and clothed. We see on television how due process is followed in the case of the individual, "who is supposed to have killed" their hero named Hayyalom. In contrast, we did not kill anyone, we did not commit bad acts against the regime, and even if we were considered to have done something wrong and we had to be punished, then we should have been jailed in police stations. Placing us naked in cold, cement covered rooms and the beating us up is a criminal act.
Another thing that saddens me is to observe that these "Freedom-fighter policemen" seem to know that people die only when they are shot. I wish that they also knew that people die from being beaten up.
Question: In your opinion what were the conditions that angered the security police in the soccer matches of Thursday, June 21, 1966 (Sene 13, 1988) and Sunday, June 21, 1996 (Sene 16, 1988)? What do you think caused them to take the actions that they did?
Tamagne: As a sport specator, I have watched every aspect concerning the games. I have experienced in watching international games that are held not only here in this country but alo in other countries. I have watched the final soccer match of the international games by sitting in the stadium.
.................... No country can excel the dignity with which Ethiopian soccer fans behave and extend hospitality to palyers. If time and conditions were to permit, we could have been able to educate these guys (the regime) what good behavior is all about. Ethiopian soccer fans give proper respect to all sorts of teams. The fans know when to support their individual or group clubs and provide support to the national team. .........Ethiopian hospitality is well known. I did not watch the beginning of the match between Ethiopian and Eritea. The referees gave inapporpirate judgement in subsequent matches. The Ethiopian team was not provided with the proper team gear leading up to the day the match started. The people have heard this. How could people be denied their rights in their own country? A country that hosts a match may try to be kind to referees and try to lean on players so that its team will be favored, but never will it work to lose game. As we witnessed, there seems to have been nothing that we haven't done to be losers.
This was the background when the soccer fans witnessed two goals being scored by Eritrea against Brundi, after Eritrean players were offside. The soccer fans expressed their opposition of the judgement to the refree. The Eritean team gestured insultingly at the spectarors. The Eritrean supporters who were seated in the shaded second fllor of the right wing of the stadium shouted "weyalla" at those who were seated in the "Katanga section," who replied back in similar manner. I was in the tribune. Many policemen moved into the left wing of the stadium. They forcibly removed sport fans who were applauding.
What does it mean? Those who were joyous and applauded for the Ethiopian team when it played against Tanzanian were apprehended by the police and removed from the stadium. If we cannot sing songs of joy for our country in our country, who are we? Which international agency is going to acknowledge us if the Ethiopian government does not?
"You have shouted at the Eritrean team" was the crime we were accused of. When the Ethiopian team plays, forget the Eritrean team, let it be any team, don't we have the right to be happy and sing songs of joy? And shouldn't the Ethiopian government support me instead of putting me in jail?
This is the second and the last of the series on Artist Tamagne Beyene.
Question: It is said that you had problems in an earlier time in your exhibitions. What caused the problems?
Tamagne: Unlike today, we used to be four guys who sang under the Ethiopian flag. Tilahun, Newaye, Tsehaye and I. One of these used the name "Ethiopia" in one of his exhibitions, and I was so happy to hear the name of my country that I jumped to the stage and congratulated him. He was singing, "Ethiopia tabetseh (Ethiopia stretched--her hands to God)." As I went to congratulate him, the audience gave a standing ovation, and asked me to join the guy on the stage. I explained that it was not my stage and I asked for their indulgence and went down from the stage.
The audience continued their joyful shouting of admiration. Toward the end of the show, as people were vacating the hall, two individuals dressed in overalls approached me and asked "Why didn't you perform with the others?" "Because I do not know how" was my reply. Then, when one of them retorted "Why aren't you working? Are you too proud to work?" I was really saddened. When it is clear that I am denied the opportunity to perform on a stage and not allowed to talk about my beloved Ethiopia. I was unhappy that
I could be asked such questions, and referred the guy to "Ask the TPLF/EPDRF why I am not allowed to work."
I was saying this to one of the guys, whence he retorted, "You are able to walk because the EPRDF gave you that liberty?" I wanted to walk away when he asked me, "What do you say?" Then I asked, "Who are you?" He replied, "I am the EPRDF." When I asked, "What do you want me to do?" he kicked me with his shoes. The police arrived as I was asking the guy why he hit me.
When I asked the police, "How could he hit me?", they replied, "What are you going to do about it?" "You, uniformed officers, how could you do this, how could you condone my being hit?", was what I said, which led one of them to pull his gun out at me. I ducked at the feet of other policemen.
The gunman ordered, "Take him and load him in a car." As I was pushed to a car, an individual whom I came to know later to be a journalist, Ato Aklilu entreated, "Why do you take him?" He too was taken with me and beaten up as we were being loaded in a car. The car spade at 110 to 120 km/her to a destination that we were not told. The driver was the gunman. He replied to my later question that the place was "Mehakelawi", a police station. At that place we were interrogated. He inquired why I returned to the country.
I told him that it was my country. Apparently, he wanted to know why I returned after I left them. He threatened and warned me by using different expressions, and he told me that I had said stuff about Tamrat Layne in the Soccer Stadium. At 10:00 pm, he drove me in his car and released me. I did not know who imprisoned me or released me. I was treated like a calf.
Question: You have been subjected to such actions at your exhibition and the soccer match. Other than what they have told you, what do you suppose are the reasons that they did these to yoy?
Tamagne: I really do not know why they do what they did. May be I do not and will not support their political program. I have said so repeatedly, I do not agree with the attribute that the regime gives "this is your tribe, this is your organization." These steps compete against God's laws and I do not want to be segregated by ethnic origin. They might dislike me for this political stand. They may condemn me. I do not intend to fight with guns. But I speak my mind freely. I believe that God gave me a mind for me to use it.
Ethiopia has never been short of being the first in doing things. She was the first to defeat a colonial power. She was the first to have her own script. She is first in many aspects. Now again, she is the first to re- insitute a forgotten tribal structure and become a new colony. I have confirmed that I belong to a colony. The big men who were prisoners with me were second class citizens.
Question: How many prisoners were there in both the Thursday and the Sunday batches?
Tamagne: The Thursday prioners were about 12. There were 38 prisoners when I arrived at the camp. There were about 18 prisoners in the vehicle with me. All in all the prisoners were about 60.
Question: What do you think can be done?
Tamagne: I love Ethiopia even though this thought might cause gastritis and ulcer in others. My love for the flag is stronger than my love for Ethiopia. However, even the flag is not entirely ours, we are losing some of its significance. I returned not because I could't live well in a foreign land. If not luxuriously, I know that I could have lived well in a foreign country. However, what is the meaning of a country? What kind of a country is it to which you cannot return? The answer to the question of what can be done is in the hands of every one. "Who allowed them to imprison us, to exile us and do as they please" is a question that every Ethiopian should ask. We should understand worse may await us in the future. We have never heard on the radio or seen on television about the torture in prisons. Instead of increasing the number of torture prisons we have to struggle to open schools, clinics, theater halls, etc. To me, the solution is to continue the struggle.
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