Authorities in Ethiopia should immediately stop the ill treatment of political opposition members and human rights defenders who were beaten in detention and then forced to appear before the court inadequately dressed, Amnesty International said today.
The 22 defendants, including political opposition leaders Gurmesa Ayano and Beqele Gerba, Deputy Chief of the Oromo Federalist Congress, were brought today before the court inadequately dressed. According to complaints lodged with the court by Beqele Gerba, some defendants were beaten while in detention, and prison officials confiscated all the defendant’s black suits, which they intended to wear to court. The rest of their clothes were taken by other prisoners.
“Aside from the beatings they suffered in detention, degrading the defendants by making them attend court in their underpants is a new low in the behavior of the prison authorities and a total outrage,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes.
“The Ethiopian authorities and the Court cannot let this ill-treatment go unanswered. They must ensure a prompt credible investigations and that those responsible are held accountable.”
The 22 defendants were charged under the Anti-terrorism Proclamation law for organizing the November 2015 Oromia protest. On April 26, 2016 the court adjourned their hearing for May 11, 2016. However on May 11 the prison authorities failed to present the defendants in court. The defendants all wore black suits in mourning for those killed during the protests, which apparently caused the prison authorities to refuse to take them to court.
“Ethiopia’s long time muzzling of dissent has had a devastating effect on opposition members and human rights defenders who are completely prevented from exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Kagari.
Beqele Gerba and the co-defendants in the case were arbitrarily arrested following the largely peaceful protests which began in November 2015 against the dispossession of land without adequate compensation in Ethiopia’s Oromo region.
In response to the protests, the authorities arbitrarily arrested thousands of people, and several hundreds of people participating in the protests have been unlawfully killed by the security services.