By Waithera Junghae
Ethiopean authorities regularly torture and abuse prisoners, including journalists, and use coercive methods to extract information and confessions, according to a new report.
Former prisoners have told campaign group Human Rights Watch they were slapped, kicked, and beaten with sticks and gun butts during interrogations. They also report being held in painful positions for hours, hung from the wall by their wrists and denied access to daylight.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) told London Journalism Centre it is very worried about media staff held in Ethiopean jails.
“We still have serious concerns about the situation of journalists and bloggers in prison like Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega,” IFJ’s Africa Director said. “We urge the Ethiopian Government to protect the professional independence and fundamental rights of journalists, and all media staff, and to investigate all violations of journalists’ rights.”
According to detainees’ families, prisoners have been denied access to a lawyer.
“Cutting detainees off from their lawyers and relatives not only heightens the risk of abuse but creates enormous pressure to comply with the investigators’ demands,” said Leslie Lefkow deputy Director for Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.
The Human Rights Watch report documents abuses since 2010 and includes testimonies from 35 former detainees, including Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson who spent 400 days behind bars. The pair were arrested in 2011 for allegedly supporting a terrorist organisation and illegally entering Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has seen instability since the country’s disputed election result in 2005. The government has been clamping down increasingly hard on peaceful dissent. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, six journalists are currently imprisoned in the country and more than 40 have been forced into exile since 2007.