Torture: a word commonly associated with Oromo political prisoners
By Sinedu Dejene
Torture: a word commonly associated with Ethiopian political prisoners, alias prisoners of conscience. The feeling is so different when you hear a personal account from the very person tortured in Makelawi. An Oromo gentleman tells me his bad experience in that torturing gulag of Ethiopia. He was imprisoned in 2004 on opposing the shift of the Capital City of Oromia from Shager/Addis to Adama. He was 20 years old and a second year of student at Addis Ababa University. In protest to the decision to change the Capital city, thousands of university and high school students demonstrated. In the process, more than 300 students were illegally—merely for political reasons–dismissed from the University. While they were detained at Kolfe Police Training Center for two days, they heard about their dismissal from their university studies from ETV news.
This gentleman remembers how federal police make them walk on their elbows and knees on crooked stone roads. After he was released, it was the Mecha and Tulema Association which rented rooms for the students who had nowhere else to go once they were dismissed from their university campuses. He was residing there for a while until he was rearrested and subsequently taken away to Makelawi. Prior to the re-arrest, while following the university administration’s decision over their case (as they had petitioned for a review of the decision!), he had in the meantime also gone to Ambo to help his relatives with work, intending also to make some money before going back to Addis. At that same time, there was turmoil in Ambo. People were opposing the government. His job in Ambo was to take and bring back his uncle’s children to and from school.
In Ambo, he remembered two high school boys, Jagama Bedane and Kebede Bedasa, shot and killed by a sniper. These students were known for taking active part in leading and organizing the opposition of the Ambo high school students. He told me, when they were killed selectively, they were on normal activity. They were not taking part in any mass protest. They were killed days after the mass protest. And at the time, the school was closed.
Hearing personal stories such as this, apart from learning about the injustice young people of my own generation live with, reminds me of the well-known story of Assefa Maru and the student leaders of the 1960s, who were deliberately aimed at to be killed on the street.
This young man was followed by securities that day. He was informed by an insider, someone who is also a member of the OPDO, that he would be shot by the sniper like the other two on that same day. But thankfully, he was going to the kindergarten to collect the children. But later in the day, the Ambo police called him for ‘interrogation’. And he was forced to spend the night in prison. Because of the insistence of his uncle, they convinced the police to release him the next day after which he immediately left for Addis. That evening, the federal police took him to Makelawi. The charge was that he organized people to initiate a conflict in his village when he was visiting his family. The usual…
In Maekelawi, he told me, there are three type of prison cells: Chelema, Tawila, and Sheraton. Prisoners that are just transferred from other prisons are often sent to Chelema cells. Chellema prison is a house that has smaller cells within. He doesn’t know the exact number of these cells. The cell has the size of a man which is not possible to sit in. He knows there are cells that fit merely the size of one man and those that fit the size of two. He was in both dark cells chained and standing for a 24 hours cycle. He was sharing two people size cell with a man named Guta. He doesn’t know what Guta looks like or who is he. The Chellema prison cellmates usually don’t share information about each other. This is because, they are afraid the cellmate might misinform during the torture interrogation or the cellmate might be a spy assigned by the inspectors. All that time in the dark they chose not to communicate, only sharing their name. He is allowed to go to the toilet only once in 24 hours. Throughout the day, but especially during the nights, he hears the wailing and screaming of other prisoners who cry in agony under the severity of the tortures. The agony is often expressed in Afaan Oromo. He was also taken to other rooms to be beaten every now and then.
In Maikelawi, his first prison was the Tawula room. Where he was summoned for interrogation that involves kicking and insults targeted to break the spirit. He told me, their beating in the middle of the interrogation is not intended to get what they want to hear, it’s simply targeted to hurt. His torturer, named Alemayehu, kicked him on the genitals for no reason. He also told me how Monie Mengesha kicked him on the sheen and left him unconscious. When he wakes up, he found out that he had made his pants wet with urine. Such an interview was conducted after standing for so long hours in the dark room and going back and forth in the cell. And when he feels about to sleep taking him back to the torture room. He told me, he was forced to watch a man of his hands and ankles tied together and hanged on a rod and kicked by different instruments every part of him specially the inside foot ( the style of hanging a sheep).
While they were doing that, the man named Nasser Abdo, hoisted like a sheep and kicked, was having a fluid coming out of his mouth. There was a prison director that was watching when Nasser Abdo was tortured. His name is Taddesse, now he is working as a national bank security and logistic director. There is another torturer named Reta, but his assigned investigator is Alemayehu. He told me, other than the known torturers, there were night time torturers that he couldn’t see their face. This same person Alemayehu was also his prosecutor in the court.
Nasser passed away a week after he was released from prison. The gentleman that I’m telling the story of was sharing a room in Sheraton with Nasser and others. He told me Nasser Abdo’s stamina was so strong. Nasser, whenever he got the time, he was keeping himself busy in studying for high school exam preparation hoping that when he gets released, he will finish his studies, which were interrupted by the arrest. He said when I think of it, this man knows the people that were torturing him, weren’t a human being to think and value what they said at all. At the time, Nasser was encouraging this gentleman not to be affected by the insult they foist upon him, though he couldn’t controls the physical damage the torturer caused. I’m just wondering how many people like Nasser Abdo was keeping their integrity and political stand in that dark suffering cell till the last day and not known by so many including people that share the same belief.
There were also old people that are also a victim of torture and still keep strong in terms of morale. Regarding this he especially remembers a man called Obbo Legese Deti. Obbo Legese Deti now lives in the US. The young man remembers Obbo Legese. On some mornings, he saw Obbo Legese chained, sitting outside in morning sun. This man knows someone in the Tawula room is looking at him from inside via small cracks, so the old man passes a strength and unity sign by making a two hand fist while in chain. He said, while I was in that Tawula room knowing I was noticed by another person gave me strength. He met Oromo individuals from different professions and backgrounds in Maikalawi. Shiferaw Ensamo and Dhabessa Wakjira (now in Australia) were journalists he met there. I wonder if anyone knows where journalist Shiferaw Ensamo is currently. I wonder if he is still in prison or has been released since.
When I asked him in general what he feels now, he said he is tired. And doesn’t care that much about things around him.
Friends, very capable and influential Oromo individuals are in Ethiopian prison! All our LOVE and RESPECT are extended to them. We know they are fighting for each of us and we stand in solidarity with them. Please share what you know about these heroes and heroines still alive or have paid for their cause by giving the ultimate. We thank so much, the gentleman who has shared his story with us!