Officials, Detainees Underscore Need for Institutionalizing Rule of Law and Democracy

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Addis Ababa ENA September 7/2019 Institutionalizing rule of law and democracy are guarantees for respect of human rights in the country and every detention center, according to officials in the judiciary and former inmates of the Maekelawi torture facility turned into a museum here in Addis Ababa.

The 39 year old blogger, Befkadu Hailu, was among the hundreds of detainees held at the formerly notorious Maekelawi for a total of 84 days in 2014. He celebrated the closure of the facility by the government, following the reform in the country.

The blogger claimed that he spent the first 75 days in the coldest and darkest room in the areas dubbed Siberia. “The place by itself is so scary. We were locked in dark room.”

Befkadu stated that he was accused of inciting violence and terrorism with his friends the Zone 9 bloggers.

“Meeting with visitors, lawyers was disallowed and there was no proper access to health service. In fact, visitors were allowed to visit me for five minutes in two weeks time for the whole 75 days in Siberia. Then I spent 9 of the total days in an areas labeled Sheraton for its relative comfort,” he elaborated.

The police used to “beat us regularly to force us confess to incriminate our friends to say that ‘we have worked with neo-liberals and we were sponsored by foreign elements and so on. There were many allegations they want us to admit. But those were crimes we never planned, let alone doing them.”

In brief, “We were tortured during interrogation and forced to confess to something we do not know about. We were forced to confessions that are self incriminating.”

Befkadu said he was later transferred to Kilinto prison where he spent 13 months. “All in all, I was detained for 18 months but released free. We were not even found guilty and the charges were false charges.”

According to him, the major violations of rights were denial of access to visitors, lawyers,  toilet and sunlight.

Social Affairs Head of the opposition, All Ethiopian Unity Organization, Legese Weldehana who was detained in Makelawi for two years ago and four months for terrorism said “the human rights violations in the facility are unforgettable. I know people disabled here. It has been scary.”

Federal Supreme Court President, Meaza Ashenafi said at a press conference held in the margins of Maekelawi during the public opening up ceremony of the facility that “ one room is in particular well known for bad things. it is a 1 meter by 1 and half meters which used to accommodate eight to 10 persons where they were obliged to stand up as it was difficult to sit down.”

The president, however, noted that “the most interesting news is that we are ready to surmount difficulties that emanate due to the lack of rule of law. We have already jotted down sufficient lessons from past mistakes.”

Meaza further emphasized the need for government, judiciary organs and concerned bodies to abide by the rule of law so as to restore public trust.

Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye said on his part that “we have observed scribbling on the walls of the rooms written by detainees to express their pain and agony.”

Berhanu stressed that there is a need to cure this scar by respecting the rule of law and building democracy.