‘I Was Forced to Drink My Own Urine’: Freedom For Netizens After 647 Days Locked Up, But Not For All

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On April 15, 2016, the Ethiopian Federal High Court acquitted two netizens, Yoantan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, who spent more than 600 days incarcerated on terrorism charges that critics allege were politically motivated. Zelalem Workagenehu, a third man, was not so lucky. He was convicted and will be sentenced on May 10. (On April 26, the public prosecutor submitted a sentence aggravation statement to the court, and Zelalem Workagenehu was asked to file a sentence mitigation letter on his part.) Zelalem is a human rights advocate and a scholar, who regularly contributed to the diaspora-run website DeBirhan.
All three were accused under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terror Proclamation, which was adopted in July 2009. State officials defend the law, saying it is modeled on existing legislation in countries such as the United Kingdom.
Yonatan and Bahiru were released after spending 647 days—almost two years—in prison, demonstrating a disturbing trend in Ethiopia where prisoners of conscience are locked away for long periods without a trial and then acquitted.
In what seemed to be a show of brute force, plainclothes security officers re-arrested Yonatan and Bahiru shortly after they left prison on April 18. The two men were held overnight at Maekelawi (Central) Prison, before being released again and warned that they’re still under observation. They were also told by the securities “They would be killed if they made any moves,” their relatives say.
Zelalem was initially charged in October 2014, along with a group of nine other defendants that included Internet users, opposition politicians, and activists. So far, seven people in this group have been acquitted after spending more than a year in jail, after which they signed what they now say were false confessions, in order to escape further torture.
The charges against Workagenehu include leading a terrorist organization (which is how the government came to define Ginbot 7, a pro-democracy political party founded by Berhanu Nega), conspiring to overthrow the government, and disseminating false information through reports on websites run by the diaspora. For instance, one of Workagenehu’s coauthors on the De Birhan Blog was also implicated in the case.
The case was later reduced to two charges: recruiting members to start an Arab-Spring-like revolution in Ethiopia and co-facilitating what the government says was a “training operation to terrorize the country.” (Zelalem says it was actually a training Course to build their digital communication, social media, and leadership skills)
Yonatan and Bahiru were charged with applying to the participate in the Course, and suspected of joining Ginbot 7. (They denied these accusations.)
In his ruling, the judge reportedly said that applying to or participating in such training programs was not illegal and so Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu should be acquitted. Despite their two years behind bars, Yonatan and Bahiru aren’t entitled to any form of compensation. It’s not year clear if they intend to press the matter in court.
Bahiru Degu, who attended his former co-defendant’s trial this week, struggles the most among the three men. He told the court he experienced extensive torture during the first three months of his detention:

I was forced to get naked and was regularly beaten. Due to the severity of the beating, I was unable to control my bowels [sic]. I was forced to drink my own urine.

Like Bahiru, Zelalem and Yonatan also told the court about the severity of the torture committed against them in prison, saying guards were trying to force them to sign false confessions. A recentreport published by Human Rights Watch revealed that Ethiopian investigators and police do abuse journalists and opposition activists, in order to extract confessions:

Police investigators at Maekelawi use coercive methods on detainees amounting to torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions, statements, and other information from detainees. Detainees are often denied access to lawyers and family members. Depending on their compliance with the demands of investigators, detainees are punished or rewarded with denial or access to water, food, light, and other basic needs.
Source – globalvoices.org

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  1. why we Ethiopians are suffering under these cruel Tigirans????? why the previous governments of Ethiopia made us to live with these cruel and evil people under Ethiopia. Tigres are not Ethiopians their cruelty and Kifat is not Ethiopian and I wonder why Mengistu fought that war with Tigres than letting them go and have their own TIGRAY REPUBLIC

    • Dagmawi,
      I concur with your statements. Tigreans are not like the rest of Ethiopians. They are cruel, evil sprited, disloyal, and the most narrow tribal. I, too, don’t understand why we live with them. Their apartheid TPLF government made more millioner Tigrea in short span of time than any other ethnic combined in Ethiopia.

  2. Not only they are shamless, heartless, sensless, remorsless typical molacha leba Woyanes, will do anything to stay in power. But they aren’t as invincible as they would like us to think. Join the resistance force. 4 TPLF secret agents have been killed today.
    4 የህወሃት ብሄራዊ መረጃ ከፍተኛ ሚስጥራዊ አባላት ተገደሉ
    Freedom4Ethiopia.com | May 3, 2016
    የብሔራዊ መረጃ የቅድመ ዝግጅት ማሰራጫና ማከናወኛን ክፍል መሰረት ባደረገ መልኩ ለመረጃ ክፍሉ ሐገር ለሐገር እየተዟዟሩ ሲሰልሉና ወሬ ሲያቀብሉ እንዲሁም ያለአግባብ ወገኖቻችንን ሲያሳስሩና ሲያስገድሉ የነበሩ አራት ቁልፍ የህወሃት ደህንነት አባላቶች መገደላቸዉን ታማኝ የመረጃ ምንጮቻችን አረጋግጠዋል። ተጠሪነታቸዉ ለመረጃዉ ክፍል ዳይሬክተር ብቻ እና በከፍተኛ ሚስጥር ከሌሎች አባላት እንኳ በተሰወረ መልኩ የሚንቀሳቀሱ ብዛት ያላቸዉ አባላቶች ላይ እርምጃዎቹ ያነጣጠሩ ናቸዉ ሲሉም ምንጮቻችን የገለጹ ሲሆን እርምጃ የተወሰደባቸዉ ግለሰቦችን ስም ዝርዝር ከዚህ በታች አስቀምጠዋል።
    1. አቶ በኩር ባዘዘዉ ገብረህይወት
    2. ቀሲስ ትንሳኤ ሃይለ መለኮት
    3. ሲስተር ሳምራዊት በቃሉ
    4. መምህር ጣፋ አጋፋሪ
    በየካቲት 28/2008 ለመረጃዉ ክፍል የወረደዉ የሞት መርዶ ብዙዎችን ያስደነገጠ ከመሆኑን ባሻገር የአራቱም ግለሰቦች አሟሟት በተመሳሳይ ወቅትና በተለያየ ክልል መሆኑ እንዲሁም አራቱም ከተገደሉ በኋላ ለመረጃ ክፍሉ ካልታወቁ ግለሰቦች የስልክ ጥሪ ተደርጎ በሐገሪቷ ላይ እየተካሄደ ያለዉ አፈናና ግድያ እስካልቆመ ድረስ እርምጃዉ እንደሚቀጥል ማስጠንቀቂያ መሰጠቱ ዉጥረቱን አባብሶታል።
    በተለይም በኦሮሚያ ክልል እና በጎንደር እንዲሁም በኦጋዴን ክልል አካባቢ ተሰማርተዉ የነበሩ የመረጃዉ ክፍል ሰራተኞች በሙሉ እርምጃ ሊወሰድባቸዉ እንደሚችል የጠቆሙት ምንጮቻችን በእነዚህ ክልል የተሰማሩ አባላቶች ጠርገዉ እየወጡ እንደሆነም ለማወቅ ችለናል ብለዋል።

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