News: Ethiopia charges eight former prison officials in connection with deadly Qilinto prison fire

Mahlet Fasil

Addis Abeba, February 19/2019 – The federal attorney general’s office has filed charges on eight former prison officials in connection with the September 2016 deadly fire at Qilinto federal maximum security prison located in the southern outskirt of the capital Addis Abeba.

According to the charges, the eight former prison officials are accused of firing on inmates following the fire that broke out at prisoners’ quarter in the morning of Saturday September 03/2016. By the government’s own admission, 23 inmates were killed, many of whom burned by the fire.

But several other accounts, including a letter sent to Addis Standard by a guard on duty, say the victims died as a result of indiscriminate shooting by prison security guards of duty.

The charges further accuse the eight suspects of severely torturing survivors of the fire when more than 400 prisoners were transferred to Shewa Robit federal prison after the fire. The accused officers are: Superintendent Asgele Weldegiorgis, officer Gebremariam Welday, Chief Superintendent Assefa Kidane, Superintendent Gebre Egziabher Gebrehawaryat, Superintendent Teklay Hailu, Superintendent Adane Hagos, Superintendent Gebrat Mekonnen and Superintendent Abu Girma. They are among the 33 former security and intelligence officials facing charges of gross human rights abuses.

The accused appeared at the federal high court Lideta branch third criminal bench. They all had their charges read for them. The court adjourned the next hearing for March 06/2019 during which defendants will present their defense statements against the charges. The court has already overruled defense team’s request for bail.

178 prisoners, many of whom serving lengthy prison terms for terrorism related offenses, were charged with criminal offenses accused of deliberately starting the fire. Most, if not all, of those prisoners were set free in February last year when Ethiopia released thousands of prisoners following the resignation of former PM Hailemariam Desalegn.

Among the charges the eight former prison officials facing include torturing 175 of the more than 400 prisoners transferred to the Shewa Robit federal prison by, among others, forcing them to spend days on cold cement floors, chaining them together for days on end and depriving them medical attentions. It also details graphic description of prisoners being chained to beds for 24 days; as well as an incident in which 37 prisoners were kept in dark rooms and tortured after having being accusing of disturbing court rooms during their hearings related to the fire.

See below Addis Standard’s historic archive on the chronology of the Qilinto Fire and the subsequent crackdown on prisoners of conscience. AS

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