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News: Rights Commission confirms OLF leaders detained against due process, subjected to abuse

Leaders and members of OLF in police custody. Picture also includes journalists working for pro-OLF online media ONN

EHRC asked for the immediate release of all detainees held without due process, for Oromia state to investigate its security officers and officials who beat prisoners and held them to account, as well as for compensations to be offered to the detainees

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released the findings of its monitoring on the detention of senior leaders of the opposition, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in various police stations in Oromia regional state. The report confirmed that several OLF leaders and members are “detained without due process.”

EHRC’s new report confirmed OLF’s repeated please asking for the release of its leadership, and accusing the police of torturing them while in detention.

In February the leaders went on hunger strike for more that a week protesting against their prolonged unlawful detention, which led to the deterioration of their health conditions have deteriorated. Family members are also prevented from visiting them.

EHRC’s report said its monitoring included visits to detainees include those granted bail by court, those whose cases were closed and acquitted by a court of law, and those who prosecutors fielded no charges against. “However, EHRC found that some of the detainees, who had been in detention for months to two years, had been subjected to various forms of abuse and ill-treatment.”

“EHRC found that some of the detainees, who had been in detention for months to two years, had been subjected to various forms of abuse and ill-treatment.”

EHRC

EHRC said its team conducted the monitoring based on “complaints from the party and the families of the detainees from March 08 to 18, 2022.”

Accordingly, the team visited Burayu, Gelan, and Sebeta towns police stations, all located in Oromia Special Zone surrounding Finfinne, and conducted interviews with the detainees, police chiefs, the Oromia Police Commission, and representatives of the Oromia Attorney General. EHRC also “reviewed court decisions, orders, and medical records” of the detainees.

“Because OLF party leaders have been illegally detained for a long time and should be released immediately and compensated for the damages they sustained”

Daniel Bekele

Of the six detainees of OLF leadership held in Burayu police station who were interviewed include, Michael Gobena, Kenesa Ayana, Dr. Geda Woljira, Dawit Abdeta, Lemi Begna, and Geda Gebisa. Furthermore, the Commission confirmed from families that Colonel Gemechu Ayana is currently being held at the Federal Police Criminal Investigation Center, while Abdi Regassa is held at the Oromia Regional State Special Police Camp in the town of Gelan. The commission also confirmed that Bete Urgessa who was in police custody, was allowed to bail to receive medical treatment.

Chief Commissioner of EHRC, Dr. Daniel Bekele, said, “Because OLF party leaders have been illegally detained for a long time and should be released immediately and compensated for the damages they sustained. In addition, Daniel said because “court and prosecutor’s decisions have been repeatedly violated and the detainees’ unlawful detention is a misuse of power, the Oromia regional government should immediately investigate and take appropriate action.”

Similarly, Dr. Abdi Jibril, EHRC Commissioner for Civil, Political, Economic and Social Rights reiterated that detainees should be protected from human rights abuses, especially as they are political party leaders and due to their public service. However, “it was saddening to see the reverse in action” he said, and stressed that “the issue needed to be resolved immediately.”

The Commission called on Oromia National Regional State Police Commission to facilitate the “immediate release of all detainees held without due process.” it also recommended that “any detainees held in a similar pre-trial detention [circumstance] should be released immediately unless a credible charges were filed.”

The Commission also called on the regions state to “ensure that all police and security forces comply with and enforce court and prosecutor orders and decisions,” as well as to “investigate Oromia government security officers and officials who beat prisoners, and take appropriate action and ensure accountability. It also urges for compensations to be offered to the detainees “for the mistreatment” they sustained in police custody.

Addis Standard’s reports on the arrest

On 09 February this year, the federal supreme court closed the case file of Colonel Gemechu Ayana, a senior OLF official, and four other ranking members of the party after the defense team filed complaints of human rights violations and defiance of court orders by prosecutors and the police. Only 3 of the defendants including Colonel Gemechu was arraigned in court today and the whereabouts of the remaining two defendants are “unknown”, lawyer Milkiyas Bulcha told Addis Standard. 

In November last year, the prosecutor filed an appeal against the defendants in Colonel Gemechu’s file at the federal supreme court six months after he and 13 other OLF members were acquitted of terrorism charges. The prosecutor filed an appeal at the federal supreme court to overturn the decision made by the federal high court. The federal high court dismissed the prosecutor’s evidence that included tapped phone conversations which are no longer admissible in court as per the new proclamation 1176/2012. 

It is odd that the court doesn’t know who jailed our defendants. We will file a complaint at the judicial administration council,”

Milkiyas, Defense lawyer

During the next consecutive sessions, the defense team filed complaints to the court detailing the human rights violations their clients suffered due to several unlawful arrests and rearrests, according to Milkiyas. He added that the defense team complained to the court about how the prosecutor collaborated with the police to keep their clients under detention by force for over 6 months defying court orders. 

The lawyers also accused the federal attorney general of failing to discharge its duties of addressing the rights violations of the defendants while they were in detention. “We demanded our clients to be freed. Our clients were not only unlawfully hailed but were also prevented from meeting their defense team,” he said.  

The defense team demanded that their clients should be set free and follow the case from outside, Milkiyas said, further expressing doubts about the autonomy of the court. The defense team demanded that all those in the justice system from the federal attorney general to the police be held accountable as per civil and criminal code, the lawyer explained. 

The judges then decided to suspend the prosecutor’s appeal and ordered the prosecutor to provide an explanation and launch an investigation into the alleged rights violations. Milkiyas explained that  the court decided that the defendants to remain under custody since “they don’t know who arrested them.” 

“It is odd that the court doesn’t know who jailed our defendants. We will file a complaint at the judicial administration council,” Milkiyas said, adding, “Our clients were transferred to several detention centers including informal ones but currently they are detained at the federal police investigation bureau. We don’t know why the judges closed the file but failed to release our clients” 

 The judges did not set an alternative appointment and the duration of time allowed for the prosecutor to finalize its investigation while the defendants remain under custody is not known, Milkiyas said. “This is a clear violation of local and international laws that warrants disciplinary measures,” he added.  He disclosed that the defense team will file an appeal to the federal supreme court cassation division or judicial administration council after discussing with their clients. 

The defendants were taken back to the federal police’s detention center in Addis Abeba where they have been staying for the last several months. 

The hearings of the defendants in Colonel Gemechu’s file after the reopening of the file in November featured many irregularities including an absence of judges from the trials. Most of the trials were postponed multiple times. At his first appearance after his acquittal, Gemechu had to attend the hearing in the absence of his defense team because they were was not made aware of his court appearance. The hearing was postponed until the next day but the police did not bring the defendants to court on that day either. 

Colonel Gemechu who was previously jailed and freed from charges was re-arrested in July 2020 after the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa where terrorism charges were re-instated.  For 18 months, he remained jailed after he was repeatedly granted bail and re-arrested multiple times, and transferred to over 18 formal and informal detention camps without the knowledge of his family and lawyers, Milkiyas said.  AS

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