Whereabouts of political prisoners not known after fire gutted down Qilinto prison, dozens feared dead

Qilinto fire

By Engidu Woldie

ESAT News (September 4, 2016)

Families of Ethiopian prisoners of conscience who flocked at the Qilinto prison, outside the capital Addis Ababa early on Sunday were told by authorities to wait for three days for information about their loved ones. The families fear their loved ones could be the victims of the fire and the reported gunfire at the notorious dungeon.

Citizen journalists shared on social media pictures of plume of smoke rising from the prison Saturday morning shocking the nation that is gripped by protests from all corners of the country against the TPLF tyrannical regime that jails, maims and extra judicially executes dissenters, democracy activists and journlists.

Hundreds of family members and friends of the political prisoners headed to Qilinto Sunday morning but were stopped by TPLF security near the prison and were told to look for their loved ones in other prisons and hospitals. Prison officials also said they would need three days to identify those who survived the fire and those who lost their lives in the flames and in the ensuing gunfire.

Bontu Bekele, daughter of Bekele Gerba, a leading Oromo political figure and who is one of the prisoners told ESAT that she went to the Kaliti prison and demanded to see her dad but to no avail. She was told her dad was not there. She also said TPLF security agents were following them everywhere they go and tracking every movement.

Mulu Bulala, sister of Addisu Bulala and Aselefech Mulatu, wife of Degene Tafa, both Oromo political prisoners said they went to three hospitals in Addis Ababa looking for the prisoners, but turned away by security forces. They said the hospitals were being guarded by the Agazi Special Forces and Federal Police who wouldn’t allow visitation by anyone.

An estimated 3000 prisoners of conscience, mostly Oromo opposition figures and Ethiopian Muslims who demanded political and religious freedoms were being held at the notorious dungeon when fire broke out on Saturday. Forty one representatives of the Muslim community, fifty youth from Amhara region detained in the recent protests and Airforce pilots thrown to jail for bogus charges of affiliation with an opposition political party were among the political prisoners at Qilinto.

This is the third time in a span of short period when a prison filled with political prisoners catches fire. A prison in Gondar and Debretabor caught fire as the brutal forces of the TPLF shot at inmates who were trying to run away from the fire.

Ethiopians doubt if those fires were accidental. The fires only happened in prisons where dissenters and democracy activists were held.

A fire that broke out at the Kality prison nine years ago killed at least 150 prisoners. Hundreds of political prisoners including the then leaders and members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, a.k.a Kinijit were jailed in Kality after they won the national election in a landslide. The regime rigged the election, security forces killed 198 demonstrators in Addis Ababa who demanded their votes be respected, and opposition political leaders were put behind bars following the election in 2005.