Ethiopia: Fear of torture or ill-treatment/"disappearance"/prisoners of conscience

PUBLIC AI Index: AFR 25/001/2007
4 January 2007

UA 04/07 Fear of torture or ill-treatment/"disappearance"/prisoners of conscience
ETHIOPIA Tilahun Ayalew (m) ]
Anteneh Getnet (m) ] officials of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA)
Meqcha Mengistu (m) ]

The three men named above are prominent members of Ethiopia's main teachers' trade union, which has been critical of the government. Tilahun Ayalew and Anteneh Getnet are reported to be in custody, and are believed to have been tortured. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the non-violent expression of their opinions and trade union activities.
Tilahun Ayalew was detained on 14 December, and allegedly tortured. He is reportedly held incommunicado by police at the headquarters of the Central Investigation Bureau (Maikelawi) in the capital, Addis Ababa, where prisoners have allegedly been tortured. Anteneh Getnet has reportedly been held at the same place since 29 December, and allegedly tortured. Both men have been produced in court, but not charged or given access to legal counsel or their relatives.
The third ETA official, Meqcha Mengistu, has not been seen since 15 December and is believed to have been detained by the police. He had allegedly been under police surveillance for several days prior to his "disappearance". His relatives and friends have made enquiries as to his whereabouts but the authorities have denied all knowledge. He is believed to be in secret custody and at risk of torture.
The ETA is the largest trade union in Ethiopia, with half a million members. It is affiliated to the worldwide trade union umbrella organisation the International Trade Union Confederation, and to the global federation of teachers' trade unions Education International. The ETA has been critical of government education policies, including regional language teaching policies and teachers' conditions of service. The government has taken legal action to close the organisation, in a long-running case which the courts have yet to finally rule on. The authorities have also attempted to undermine the ETA by setting up a rival pro-government union with the same name, closing down the ETA's headquarters in Addis Ababa and attempting to freeze their funds. Hundreds of teachers and ETA members across the country have been detained or arbitrarily dismissed since the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power in 1991, reportedly because they failed to support the party.
The ETA issued statements criticizing the government in the aftermath of the May 2005 general elections, which saw the EPRDF returned to power amid opposition allegations of vote-rigging and fraud. Nearly 200 opposition party supporters were reportedly killed by the security forces during demonstrations in June and November 2005; six police officers were also killed by demonstrators during the protests. Thousands of opposition party members, human rights defenders, journalists and others were arrested during and after the demonstrations. Many have been released, but now 111 people are on trial before the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa on charges including "high treason", "outrages against the Constitution" and "genocide". These charges can carry the death penalty.
Kassahun Kebede, the chair of the Addis Ababa branch of the ETA, is one of four human rights defenders and civil society activists charged with "outrages against the Constitution". Amnesty International considers all four to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally. Also on trial is ETA general secretary Dr Taye Woldesemayat, who was abroad at the time and is being tried in his absence. The prosecution case was completed
in December 2006 and the trial has been adjourned until 19 February 2007. (For further information, please see the AI report Ethiopia: Prisoners of conscience on trial for treason: opposition party leaders, human rights defenders and journalists, AFR 25/013/2006, May 2006.)

AI Index: AFR 25/001/2007

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