How many political prisoners does Ethiopia afford? Myriad.
It has been now over a month since Ethiopia’s notorious and the first in its modern history nationwide State of Emergency has been declared. The decree which follows months of protests and unhinged brutality by the the incumbent regime stirs a debate on the essence and the motive behind it. However, beyond the debates, the most concerning impact of the decree is its main target, local activists. As it feared by many the decree proved that it is a pretext to terrorize the public in general and purging the beleaguered local activists in particular.
By reaffirming already outlawed acts as a crime, but suspending procedural rights of citizens, the decree aimed to crush defiance and to that effect it unleashed a terror of mass detention in its first month of implementation.
Thanks to the lack of transparency and accountability in the present day Ethiopia, how many peoples are detained since October 08, 2016? is a question that we can’t easily answer. We may estimate some numbers. Estimations are subjective, nonetheless. One of the the main problem of the lack of information is a month long Mobile Internet blackout in major cities including the capital. By shutting off mobile Internet the government controls all the woe and cry and being able to push forward its own story of ‘restabilized nation’.
In spite of the information black-hole, we are able to get some data about who is in jail and who is not. Mass detention was regular for the past 12 Months even if the government stand in denial for long. However, since the declaration of the state of Emergency on October 08, 2016, the command post, a mandated organ to execute the decree come up with different numbers of detainees.
The first of these numbers was the detention of one thousand people from a Small town in the outskirt of the capital, Sebeta on October 17, 2016. Two days after this announcement the government again come-up with another four digit number of detainees, 1,673.
This number includes business owners who are accused of participating in ‘illegal strike’ and ‘stay-at-home protests’. Moreover, On October 30, 2016 the Command Post Secretariat again report that 400 individuals surrendered to the Command Post as per the the ten days ultimatum given by the decree. That makes the number of detainees in the first month of the State of emergency a total of 3,073 individuals with some excuse stories of release of elderlies and minors.
But, these all sporadic reports were only a story of curiosity until a massive shocker was announced on the 11th of November, 2016. On the 11th, the so-called State of Emergency Inquiry Board declared,
According to the board, these five digit detainees are detained in Six major places across four major Regional States and the capital Addis Ababa.
Some of the detention centers like Tolay Military Camp and Awash Arba Military Camp are infamously known to be torture chambers. Almost all the detainees are not brought to court since the State of Emergence decree subsided the constitutional right to appear in court in 48 hours.
What makes these camps scary is the fact that previously these camps are known to be places that human right violation was rampant. Many Human Rights violations in these detention Centers were reported in the past few months.
Similarly, many gruesome reports are coming out of Ethiopia (after the declaration of the State of Emergency) that shows what is going in the Military Camps, including this (below) unverified ‘helicopter positioned’ picture of a recently (unnamed) released detainee from Awash Arba Military Camp.
Mockingly, the government claimed detainees are sent to the centers for rehabilitation and to take a crash course on constitution and constitutionalism.
In a recent press conference with foreign media correspondents the now demoted Communication Affairs Minister of Ethiopia was boasting as:
Probably this is the only government in the world that metes out punishment in the form of constitutional classes. Some fitness exercise maybe. It’s only the most dangerous criminals who will have to face the consequences. Otherwise, this is going to be rehabilitation programs, three weeks, and a month. You teach them constitution. You teach them some values and the ABC of basic decency.
Despite the governments promise to name all the detainees and their addresses, so far there is no such information released for the public. However, when we see the number of of detainees the government disclosed vis-à-vis the daily arrest of local activists who are not taken to account in the regime’s data; we know how the list is deflated. These unaccounted arrests mainly targeted certain Political Party members, activists and writers which are considered as a threat at any circumstance. Actually, the crack down was starting immediately after the the declaration targeting Semayawi Party (a legally registered political party) (ex)members:
In a month long crackdown under the pretext of State of Emergency, Semayawi Party alone claimed more than eighty members and supporters of the party are detained. These number includes the main party operatives, Artists, Book Publishers and Distributors, even long distance Athletes.
Nonetheless, the crackdown on members of Semayawi Party was not an exclusive case. But rather many members of All Ethiopian Unity Party (AEUP) were also targeted by the decree.
In the existence of a blanket media blackout, tracing all the detentions is an impossible task. The aforementioned cases are only meant to show the scale of the crackdown on the Political Parties. However, besides Political party members the usually targeted dissident writers and dissident activists are also another area of targets by the state of emergency. By days writers, bloggers, journalist are seen to be mainly targeted and many of them are sent to the camps.
However, not to mention the unreported major mass detentions, but beyond these high-profile arrests reports of mass detention is coming-out from all over the country. These detentions includes business owners, students, civil servants and everyone.
Most of these arrests are targeting dissidents who were quite have their own opinions on affairs that affect their own country. The government unleashed the decree as a weapon of mass purging on activists and political figures all over the nation. This calls for a question of how many political prisoners does Ethiopia afford? So that the regime stays in power — forever.