Addis Abeba, July 26/2017 – The body of Ayele Beyene, who died while in police custody at Qilinto prison, a maximum prison facility on the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba, was buried yesterday in his home town in Gidami, east Wallaga zone of western Ethiopia.
Before he was detained in September 2016, Ayele, 29, was the head of the management department at Nifas Silk Lafto Kifle Ketema Woreda 10 bureau here in the capital Addis Abeba. He was detained along with seven others but was only brought to court in May 2017 after spending nine months in Ma’ekelawi.
Their arrest is part of a widespread government crackdown in the wake of (and post) the yearlong anti-government protests in Oromia and Amhara regional states that saw thousands rounded up and sent to prison.
On May 10 the eight men were formally charged (charge sheet in pdf) with terror related and criminal offenses. Ayele Beyene was listed as the second defendant in the file name under the first defendant Melkamu Kinfu. Ayele was facing similar charges of terrorism and criminal offenses along with six of the eight men: Bonsa Beyene (his bother), Yimam Mohammed, Lemesa Gizachew, Kumera Tilahun, Meyad Ayana, and Muluna Darge. All the seven were charged under Art. 7/1 of Ethiopia’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP 652/2009) as well as Art. 32/1 A and B and Art. 38 of the 2004 Criminal code, while the first defendant Malkamu Kinfu was charged under Art. 4 of the ATP and Art. 32/1 A and B and Art. 38 of the 2004 Criminal code.
All the eight defendants have told the federal court 4th criminal bench during their first appearance in May that they have been subjected to severe torture that included beatings and solitary confinement in dark rooms during their nine months of detention in Ethiopia’s notorious prison Ma’ekelawi.
After charges were filed, they were transferred to the Qilinto prison, from where the body of Ayele was taken to St. Paul Hospital before he died.
During their court hearing yesterday, the fourth defendant Yimam Mohammed told the judges that Ayele hadn’t had food for ten days prior to his death during which the rest of his co-defendants have reported his situation to the prison authorities at least “three times a day” but they were “neglected”. “I find it hard to say that our friend [Ayele] has died; his life was cut short. Who is responsible for that? If it is the government let us know it before we too die,” said Yimam to a court full of weep.
The first defendant Melkamu on his part told the judges that all defendants were suffering from illnesses related to the abuses they were subjected to in prison. He also said that despite his repeated plea with the prison authorities he was denied access to his medications. “Ayele was killed and we fear we too will meet his fate.”
The eight defendants were largely accused of having links with Dawud Ibssa, the leader of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and receiving money from and orchestrating a local cell to assist OLF’s attempts to violently overthrow the constitutional order. The particular accusations against Ayele said that he had become a member of a terror cell organized by the first defendant Melkamu in an “unidentified” date and month. He was also accused of passing on government information.
Prosecutors have attached six pages of written material obtained from Ayele during interrogations when he was in Ma’ekelawi as well as what they said were e-mail communications from an e-mail address opened for this purpose as evidence against him.
The prison police have not presented information on the cause of death during yesterday’s hearing, but they have notified the court on July 24 of Ayele’s death. The judges have told prison officials to present Ayele’s cause of death and the autopsy result during the next hearing for the remaining seven defendants on August 02. AS