Ethiopia: Documentary exposes heinous torture of prisoners by TPLF interrogators

Kefyalew Tefera
Yonas Gashaw

by Engidu Woldie
ESAT News (December 12, 2018)

Yonas Gashaw trumbles as he speaks. He is now paraplegic and both legs shiver constantly. He has gone through hell. His father died in exile after he was forced out of his country due to his association with the previous regime. His mom was also jailed for six months and later died. She was unable to bear the grief of losing a husband and a son. Yonas said one fateful day, TPLF security personnel run a military truck over his elder brother on a street in Bahir Dar.

Yonas says after his arrest, interrogators took him to a forest in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. They strip off his clothes and tied him to a tree, constantly beating him taking turns. They pulled his genitals using pliers. In prison, he was hung upside down from a ceiling for several months, only giving him a respite during meal and bathroom time.

A damning testimony by political prisoners exposed once again horrific abuses by interrogators of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who were in charge of prisons all across the country until recently.

The prisoners, who were among thousands released after political power had slipped out from the hands of TPLF in April when a new Prime Minister took the helm, spoke of torture and abuse. They all said their tormentors were “Tigrigna speaking” interrogators of the TPLF, an ethnic party that had controlled the intelligence, security and political power until recently.

Abominable stories of torture perpetrated by the TPLF were no news to Ethiopians, but the documentary aired on primetime last night sent chills down the spines of many compatriots. In the capital Addis Ababa, there is talk of holding a demonstration to denounce the abhorrent acts of the Tigrayan interrogators, but city authorities said in a statement that the demonstration should have the legal permits in order to make security and other arrangements.

Kefyalew Tefera has lost both limbs. They had to be amputated after a gangrene resulted from torture.

Andualem Ayalew thinks he is still in prison. He says he found it hard to communicated with his children, and suggested that torture survivors need rehabilitation before they are sent to their families. Echoes of shouting interrogators in the prison still ring on his ears.

Yohannes Tefera says one of his testicles are damaged due to the torture. “They stripped off my clothes and repeatedly pulled my genitals while telling me that the likes of me should never be fertile again. They all speak Tigrigna.”

Yohannes said his family didn’t know his whereabouts. “My son just left home one day and was never to be seen again. He believed I was killed. I think he felt that life would be meaningless without me,” he said as he wept on camera.

Social media activists say after the release of the documentary, Yohannes’ son, Abel Yohannes, has been found in Afar region and is expected to be reunited with his dad today. He was watching the documentary when his dad suddenly popped up on the screen. He blacked out.

Mikias Tesfaye was imprisoned because his sister, Nigist Yirga, is a well known opposition activist in Gondar. He was told by TPLF security that he must do what he would be told if he didn’t want his sister, who was also jailed at the time, to be hurt, or worse to be killed. He was sent to Eritrea to kill leaders of Ethiopian opposition groups.

In prison in Addis, Mikias says he knows an inmate who had been repeatedly sodomized by a TPLF interrogator. He said the victim had confided him the story and he was instructed not to share the story with anyone.

All prisoners said pulling genitals with pliers and flogging while tied to poles was a daily occurance in prison. Some have said they had seen prisoners who died after brutal beatings and abuse.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed vowed in a statement that the perpetrators of the heinous torture would face justice. He said the perpetrators of these crimes acted as the police, prosecutor, witness and judge all in one.

Several members of the security and intelligence have recently been arrested on suspicion of torture and abuse against political prisoners.