The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/Commission) expresses serious concern over the treatment of detainees in detention centres across Oromia region. During the period from November 20, 2020 to January 12, 2021, the Commission deployed monitoring teams at 21 selected police stations where a large number of prisoners who are said to be arrested in connection with what the local authorities describe as “the current situation” (“haala yeroo”) are being detained, particularly those arrested following the assassination of artist Hachalu Hundesa. In the process of monitoring the police stations that have been the source of repeated complaints, discussions were held with detainees as well as the relevant officials of the police stations. Furthermore, the Commission sought feedback of the concerned law enforcement and administrative bodies of the region concerning the findings of the monitoring exercise.
EHRC is alarmed by the conditions of detention at the police stations and believes grave violations of human rights have been committed. The Commission has learned that the detention centers house a large number of people who had been arrested without court orders in connection with “the current situation”. Credible testimonies were received that many of the prisoners were detained without a formal investigation opened against them and that they had not been brought before court within the time prescribed by the law. In addition, many of the police stations have been holding suspects whose charges were dropped by prosecutors or who were supposed to be released in accordance with a court order. Those prisoners were nevertheless arbitrarily detained on the basis of the allegation that they are “core” suspects with new charges typically invoked against them by the police.
Officials at various police stations claim that the cases of those detained in connection with “the current situation” are to be handled by security councils (“Mana maree nageenyaa”) at the zonal and woreda levels. The practice has placed the fate of a large number of detainees in the hands of political (administrative) organs by denying them access to legally established courts.
Some of the detainees at the police stations reported being beaten during police arrests and while in detention, and the monitoring teams observed detainees who had open wounds in various parts of their body and those displaying temporary or permanent physical disabilities. Furthermore, EHRC has received diverse testimonies about the practice of arresting family members of suspects in some areas that includes arresting a father or mother to demand that they present their children who are suspected of being members or supporters of OLF Shane or arresting a wife to present her husband suspected of association with OLF Shane. Several detainees also reported extortion practices by members of the police who demand payment and threaten detention and charges of association with OLF Shane unless provided.
There were female detainees in all the police stations visited, some of them with children between the ages of 5 months and 10 years. On the other hand, children between the ages of 9 and 18 detained on suspicion of involvement in criminal activity are being held at various police stations along with adults, contrary to Article 172 of the Criminal Procedure Code requiring their release on unconditional bail.
In most of the police stations observed, detainees are held in unhygienic and overcrowded rooms which pose serious health risks. Most of the detainees face dire conditions as a result of the absence of food supply in the detention centres coupled with lack of access to water, sanitation, and medical services.
In its response to EHRC’s findings, the Oromia Attorney General stated that it had investigated the matter and denied violations of human rights of detainees in the region.
EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele noted that treatment of detainees in the region needs to be addressed urgently and emphasized that the cases of those subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention be investigated and brought to court in an expedited manner, police officers responsible for human rights abuses be held to account, utmost priority be given to children and women suspects including by ensuring that all children arrested on suspicion of involvement in criminal activities be released on an unconditional bail pursuant to the law.
The chief commissioner added, “special attention needs to be paid to making sure that the trial of persons suspected of crimes be handled only by the regular courts and court orders are duly complied with by the regional authorities.”
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