Under the Ethiopian state

Without investigative journalists, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how a dictatorship abuses the legal system and courts. Here, the well-known Ethiopian journalist Temesgen Desalegn describes such a circumstance. Desalegn himself was sentenced to three years in prison for his articles in the now folded newspaper Feteh. This is a newly written text  by him from prison. 

April 8 2015 Text: Temesgen Desalegn

Mohamed Yusuf, now 26, was born in Dohan City, located 500 km from the main city of the Somali Regional State. He is the seventh of eight siblings, five of whom are girls. Although he attempted to reach tenth grade at Jijiga Secondary School, for reasons beyond him, he couldn’t attend the preparatory level. At that time the new regime had organized an extravagant gala to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of the fall of the former Derg regime. Unfortunately, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) disrupted the occasion with a military attack. Immediately after the bombings, Mohamed fell into the hands of the witch hunters, and subsequently languished in what local people called “the hell prison”. Besides his obvious trauma, his tortured body speaks loudly of the road he suffered. As if the ceaseless torture wasn’t enough he spent four months in a single cell, his hands bound day and night. But, the farce of it was, that when a regional court sentenced him to death for the crime of giving cigarettes to ONLF fighters he heard his death penalty announced on national radio on the Voice of America Somali programme.

Following the court verdict he was given a cellmate within 24 hours, with whom he shared meals, consisting of a single ‘enjera’, for two months. When recalling how he suffered through those days and nights, his tears overshadow his voice. Now, Mohamed waits to see what time holds next within the Zeway Prison at The Ninth Compound, along with eleven other Somali speakers. After all the inhumane satanic acts of the State for the past seven years he is thoughtful of the court decision due to be implemented soon, sharing the nightmare with 34 other inmates with the same death verdict.

The ruined justice
To be honest, what I have described is not only Mohamed’s fate, but the fate of seven other men with the same charge. However, the irony lies elsewhere, as the seven men (Mohamed Ibrahim, Areb Sewane Dule Bante, Hassen Mohamed Osman, Hassen Mohamed Ali, Muketar Mohamed Abdulahie, Keder Shkure Musa and Kamil Abdulnaser) have only coincidently known of Mohamed in this prison. As they have explained to me, they were transferred to this “hell prison” by the current head of the region, Ato Abdi, who is incomparable in the State for his utter cruelty. None of them had been to court, nor did the court see any evidence. The other heart-breaking point is that these seven inmates were only informed of their death penalties, many days after, by fellow inmates who had heard it from the government-run radio news.

To the best of my knowledge, being familiar with the country’s federal structure, a regional court is not authorised to hand down a death sentence. Irrespective of this fact, the prosecutors did not present the court with substantial evidence. In addition to these defendants, there are thirteen more Somali speakers in Zeway Prison with life sentences. When we are faced with such bitter truths of a mockery court that sentences brilliant young men to death, then nothing more is needed to set off a revolution that tears apart this brittle State at last.

The Regional Government Of Somalia
Supreme Public Prosecutor and Justice Office, Jijiga
First Charge:
Public Prosecutor Files No.: 90/2000
Plaintiff: Public Prosecutor
Defendant: Hassan Mohammed Osman/Hanne Meads
Age: 21
Job/Title:
Address: City Jijiga, Keble 06

Offence:
The Defendant is accused of violating the 2005 FDER Criminal Code, Articles 240/3 and 251/d.
Details of the Offence:
Since September 2006, the Defendant was a willing member of ONLF, which is one of the terrorist groups in Ethiopia. He communicated with the group in the city and armed fronts and supported them with different materials such as shoes and clothes.

Second Charge:
The Regional Government of Somalia
Supreme Public Prosecutor and Justice Office
Jijiga Zone Higher Court, Jijiga
Pubic Prosecutor File No.:
90/2000
Plaintiff: Public Prosecutor
Defendant: Mohamed Sheik Ibrahim
Age: - 28
Job/Title: No
Address: City Jijiga, Keble 05

Offence:
1) The defendant is accused of violating the 2005 FDER Criminal Code, Articles 241 and 251/d.
Details of the Offence:
Since 2005, the date and month of which are not clearly known, the Defendant willingly becomes a member of the terrorist group ONLF. He took part in this group and intentionally committed unconstitutional acts which could split the region from the Federal State and destroy the Federation. He also supported this terrorist group in Jijiga with many materials such as policy uniform, medicine and clothes in collaboration with another person, who is not arrested yet.
2) He is also accused of violating the 2005 FDER Criminal Code, Article 3/b.
Details of the Offence:
Since 2004 the Defendant was forging the authentication of the regional education office, the Kebredehar education office, the MSF and others. He also prepared false documents with the names of these institutions by faking the signature of the authorities.

Who is responsible?
Our forgotten brothers had a firm response when asked by someone about the perpetrators of this evil act. To wit; Colonel Monie Mengesha is at the driver’s seat of this carnage (a few years back he chaired the Anti-Terrorism Department of the region and currently heads the Illegal Human Trafficking Department in Addis Ababa); head of the regional security apparatus, Ato Biniyam; Sergeant Zegeye, who is in charge of the Regional Federal Police; Ato Welde Arawie, Deputy Regional Police Commissioner; and a few others whose precise title and authority couldn’t be tracked but were named as Sergeant Wedeme, Sergeant Belete and Ato Tasere.

Adding insult to injury these evil perpetrators, as if the violent torture they engaged in was not sufficient, openly said to their victims faces “We will sentence every one of you to death”, among other statements beyond comprehension. When questioned about such violent words by the perplexed Ogadenian youths, they told them firmly: “Yes, we are the court, we are the judges!” When we heard the death penalty verdicts at last it was apparent why these perpetrators bluffed from the start. And to make matters worse, the banality of such evil proved the extent that any unfortunate prisoner may be gunned down by one of those perpetrators in front of the other prisoners at any given moment.

In a nutshell, this heart-melting story affirms that our kangaroo courts’ mortified rulings and humiliated judges failed wretchedly to implement the rule of law, and are giving up everything at their professional disposal including their own integrity to side with the brutality of the regime.

“The hell prison”
Most of the Regional State’s prisoners pass through this “hell prison”. Although it was originally deemed “suitable” to accommodate four hundred it now houses more than four thousand prisoners. The extent of this overcrowding makes living conditions within difficult. For example, the sleeping corridors are extremely narrow, forcing prisoners to take turns sleeping so that each prisoner averages barely one hour of sleep in this hellish camp. If a prisoner is ever released from this compound the community would be shocked by his fate. Visitation by any family member is a heavenly dream. Just by sheer coincidence, I once encountered a young man who was eating a single “enjera” per day for five consecutive years. As he recounted, at the end of 2011 a deadly disease outbreak literally claimed fourteen lives per day! In the midst of such atrocities the prison guards would wake up the weakened prisoners and force them to sing slogans using their weakened voices, such as:
“Long live Meles Zenawie!”
“Long live Abdi!”
“Long live Ethiopia!”
“Death to ONLF!”