Inmates at Jail Ogaden in Somali region of the country were abused for years with little access to medical care, report says. Ethiopia says it has fired senior prison officials for violating rights.
Inmates at a notorious prison in Ethiopia's Somali region have been arbitrarily detained and tortured for years, a major human rights group said in a report on Thursday.
In the 88-page report titled "'We are Like the Dead': Torture and other Human Rights Abuses in Jail Ogaden, Somali Regional State, Ethiopia," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it has documented a "brutal and relentless pattern of abuse, torture, rape and humiliation with little access to medical care, family, lawyers, or even at times to food".
The report implicates prison security forces, including the region's notorious Liyu police.
"Most prisoners are accused of some affiliation with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a banned opposition group, but most never face charges or trials," said HRW.
"The horrific situation in Jail Ogaden requires immediate and transparent investigation into the actions of the regional president, other senior Somali Region officials, and the Liyu police," Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at HRW, said in a statement.
Ethiopia said it fired senior prison officials hours before the release of the HRW report.
Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye's announcement of the dismissals and the appointment of new officials was broadcast late on Wednesday on state-affiliated television Fana.
He said the new officials should respect human rights in accordance with the constitution.
Reluctant prime minister
HRW said Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took over from Hailemariam Desalegn on June 18 admitted before the parliament that security forces have tortured Ethiopians, has yet to tackle Ethiopia's culture of impunity and ensure accountability for abuses by the security forces.
"Police flogged. This is unconstitutional. Police were terrorists," Abiy told parliament in mid-June.
"I was kept in solitary confinement in complete darkness for most of my [three years in] detention. I was only taken out at night for torture," said one of hundreds of torture victims who was a prisoner and spoke to HRW.
"They [prison officials] did many things to me – they electrocuted my testicles, they tied wire around them, and they put a plastic bag with chili powder over my head. I often had a gag tied in my mouth so I wouldn’t scream too much."
It is just one of the many harrowing stories that can be found in the report, which warns that many rights violations take place in Jail Ogaden, where there are serious cases of starvation, disease outbreaks, limited food and water and a lack of proper healthcare which has led to many deaths.
"Dr Abiy should continue to publicly condemn torture and take action on Jail Ogaden to show he is serious about stopping torture and ending impunity," said Horne.
"The scale of torture and abuse in Jail Ogaden cannot be overstated."
Ignored for too long, new @hrw report looks into 7 years of horrific torture and abuse faced by prisoners in #Ethiopia’s #JailOgaden. Calls on new Prime Minister to hold Somali region leaders to account, reform Liyu police https://t.co/fBQ072AxgU— Laetitia Bader (@LaetitiaBader) July 5, 2018
Prisoners prepped for local probe
HRW said the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a governmental body carrying out investigations related to human rights abuse, has inspected Jail Ogaden on many occasions since 2011, but there are no publicly available reports on those visits.
Many former prisoners told HRW that they had been prepped by prison officials on what to say and what not to say to the Commission, while some others were held in secret rooms or moved out of the prison ahead of the visits.
Those who spoke openly to Commission officials were brutally beaten.