News: Ethiopian netizen community hold daylong campaign to remember fellow prisoners of conscience


                                                     Sketches made to accompany the daylong online campaign

Liyat Fekade

Addis Abeba, December 28/2017 – Ethiopian netizen community have held a day-long social media campaign yesterday December 27 aimed at remembering fellow prisoners of conscience jailed in several prison facilities in Ethiopia. The campaign followed news that prominent opposition figure Bekele Gerba was “gravely ill” inside the Qilinto prison, where is awaiting trial, and was denied medical attention, a story that is too familiar with Ethiopian prisons.

Speaking to Addis Standard on the purpose of organizing the daylong campaign,  blogger Befeqadu Hailu, who was once a prisoner himself and is one of the organizers of the online campaign, said that currently there were “a lot of political developments in Ethiopia”, however, this political development “seemed somehow inconsiderate of the case for political prisoners”, which, according to him, has partially resulted in the current political crisis the country was going through in the first place.  “Therefore, we decided to campaign to put the case of illegal detentions, torturous treatments and lengthy and unjust court proceedings to the public’s attention and to remind our politicians the true nature of one of the many challenges the country is facing today.”

Most of the prisoners in Ethiopia, who fellow Ethiopians believe are prisoners of conscience, are often charged under the county’s draconian anti-terrorism proclamation (ATP). Currently, more than 1000 Ethiopians, whose cases are known to a website dedicated to track terrorism cases, are on trial at the 4th and 19th benches of the federal high court in the capital Addis Abeba; they are facing various forms of charges under the ATP.

In a recent interview with Addis Standard, Solomon Kebede, a journalist who was freed after serving more than three years on terrorism charges, said: “In Ethiopia, a federal prison is a melting pot where you find every sector of the society from all corners of the country. In a single room, you might get from 150-400 prisoners. Among these prisoners, there are intellectuals as well as laymen. There are serial criminals as well as innocent people. There are teenagers as well as old men above 80. There are also the mentally ill, severely sick as well as very healthy people.” Solomon has recently wrote a book detailing his prison experience, including torture.

Rampant abuses, including systematic tortures, in Ethiopian prisons are not unheard of in the past; many of these cases are carefully documented by several rights organizations, and the media, including Addis Standard . A collaboration effort between the Wazema Radio and the Ethiopian Human Right Project has also been documenting these abuses.

But nothing seemed to have improved over the years. Further more, as Ethiopia continued reeling from the three years persistent anti-government protests, which prompted the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency, terrorism charges brought against individuals who are accused of participating and leading the protests have seen a dramatic uptick. These cases include cases against several prominent  individuals including opposition party leaders such as Dr. Merera Gudina.

Befeqadu said the daylong social media campaign on twitter and facebook, under the hashtag #FreeAllPrisonersOfConscience “was successful because it involved a lot of citizens on social media and has reached the mainstream media. It needs further follow up, but for now it has successfully created the needed buzz and awareness,” said Befeqadu. AS



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