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Ethiopia torturing political detainees - HRW

18 October 2013, 10:35

Johannesburg - Ethiopian police are torturing political prisoners at a facility in Addis Ababa, according to a new report released on Friday by the rights group Human Rights Watch.

Entitled "They Want a Confession", the report charges that police torture people until they agree to confess to various crimes, whether true or not. It also says that since disputed elections in 2005 the government has tightened restrictions on freedom of speech.

An anti-terror law passed in 2009 has given the government even more means to restrict opposition voices and crackdown on dissidents.

Detainees, including political activists and journalists, say they were beaten and also forced into stress positions, such as hanging people from their wrists, the report alleges. 

Based on interviews with 35 people, the new report focuses on the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, commonly known as Maekelawi, which is located in Addis Ababa.

Prisoners are taken there shortly after they are arrested. Initial interrogations are carried out at the facility, and often, abuses soon follow.

Many prisoners were held for months without access to lawyers or their families, often in conditions which included poor food and inadequate medical treatment, according to testimonies collected by the New York-based rights group.

"The coercive methods, exacerbated by the poor detention conditions, are used by the authorities at Maekelawi to maximize pressure on detainees to extract statements, confessions, and other information-whether accurate or not-to implicate them and others in alleged criminal activity," the report charges.

Those who have been abused by the system have little options for redress, as the judiciary is seen as a politicised body that bends to the government's will, the report said.

Human Rights Watch said donors to Ethiopia - a major recipient of Western aid money - should demand accountability from the authorities, including ensuring access to the detention centre for observers.



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