Human Rights Watch said Thursday that while it is a good news that the regime in Ethiopia freed close to 10,000 prisoners following massive anti-government protests, the detainees shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.
Senior researcher for the Horn of Africa at the Human Rights Watch, Felix Horne, said in a dispatch published on Wednesday that they have “interviewed dozens of people held in short-term detention in military camps, and many described mistreatment and torture in meticulous detail.”
The Ethiopian regime had announced it has detained about 24,000 protesters following the declaration of the state of emergency in October. “The state of emergency has had catastrophic rights implications for Ethiopians, and the factors that prompted it remain unresolved” Horne writes.
“The scale of the arrests is overwhelming. Many lives have been lost or forever altered,” Horne continues.
The dispatch contains horrific accounts of a girl nicknamed “Iftu.”
“Iftu, a 16-year-old girl from Hararghe in Oromia, described the toll on her family – security forces shot and killed her father during an August protest. Several days after his funeral, two of her brothers were arrested and taken to Tolay military camp, and have not been seen since.”
“Her mother and two other brothers went missing when the military went door to door in November ‘arresting every young person they could find,’ she said. Her uncle cannot walk because of torture he suffered in Ziway prison following protests in Oromia in 2014. Iftu’s school administrator suspended her for one year after the military found a ‘protest song’ on her phone. Her family and her future have been torn apart because she, her fellow students, and her father took to the streets to protest against government policies.”
The government on one hand makes vague promises to the public and on the other contine mass arrest that fuels anger, Horne said and added that the “the detention of key opposition leaders, such as Dr. Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba, as well as the clampdown on basic rights limits the potential for open dialogue that is needed to understand and address protesters’ grievances.”
Since November 2015, security forces have arrested and detained tens of thousands of people, often without charge, during protests against government policies in Oromia. Hundreds of protesters have been killed, Horne recalled.