Ethiopia: “We are Like the Dead,” Jail Ogaden prisoners tell Human Rights Watch

by Engidu Woldie

ESAT News (July 5, 2018)

A damning report by a rights watchdog exposed horrific torture committed against prisoners in Jail Ogaden, a prison in the Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia.

Located in the regional capital JiJiga, Jail Ogaden holds prisoners accused of being members and supporters of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a Front that until today was labeled as a terrorist organization. The Ethiopian Parliament today passed a resolution nullifying “terrorist” labels that it designated seven years ago on ONLF, Patriotic Ginbot 7 (PG7), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The terrorist label on al Qaeda and al Shabaab have not been repealed.

“Female prisoners gave birth in their cells without access to skilled birth attendants, often in grossly unhygienic conditions. The plight of children, some allegedly born in Jail Ogaden from rape by prison guards, is especially tragic,” the report said.

The report, which is based on about 100 interviews including 70 former prisoners of Jail Ogaden, documented torture, rape, long term arbitrary detention, and horrific detention conditions in Jail Ogaden between 2011 and early 2018.

“Officials stripped naked and beat prisoners and forced them to perform humiliating acts in front of the entire prison population, as punishment and to instill shame and fear,” the report goes on to say.

It said “many of the former prisoners interviewed said they saw people dying in their cells after being tortured by officials. Female former prisoners told of rape.”

The report implicated prison security forces, including the Somali Region’s notorious paramilitary force, the Liyu police and the regional president, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, known as Abdi Illey, to whom the police report to.

“Former prisoners said that senior Somali politicians including Abdi Illey and Somali Region head of security and head of the Liyu police Abdirahman Labagole appeared regularly at the prison to speak to the prison population. Many of the worst abusers have been the prison heads of Jail Ogaden. Not only do some of these officials appear to have ordered torture, rape and denial of food, but in some cases, former prisoners alleged that they were personally involved in committing rape and acts of torture.”

“Prison guards and the notorious Liyu police [“special” police in Amharic], brutalized prisoners, at the behest of regional authorities. The prison is subject to almost no meaningful scrutiny or oversight.”

The Human Rights Watch urged Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the parliament to establish a federal Commission of Experts (COE) for Somali Region.

The rights group said the Commission should investigate abuse at Jail Ogaden and recommended that the investigation should include Abdi Illey and current head of Liyu police Abdirahman Labagole.