Rights Group Officials Visit Prisoners on Hunger Strike

ADDIS ABEBA – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has deployed a monitoring mission to Kaliti Correctional Facility and Kilinto Prison to monitor the situation of defendants in Jawar Mohammed et al case, who have remained on hunger strike since January 27, 2021, and other prisoners.

The team visited the prisons on February 2, 2021 to investigate the current situation of the prisoners on hunger strike and the treatment of Colonel Gemechu Ayana and Tilahun Yemi, EHRC said in a statement issued on Friday. The team also talked with the prison administration of both facilities and the prisoners.

Their demands

During the Commission’s visit to Kaliti Correctional Facility on February 2, Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Hamza Adane (Borena) and Shemsedin Taha had been on hunger strike since January 27, 2021.

The prisoners informed EHRC that their latest strike was aimed at protesting “the government’s suppression and violation of rights of people and their party”, according to EHRC’s statement.

It also intends “to ask for a stop to the harassment and ill treatment of Colonel Gemechu Ayana and to demand that the mistreatment and imprisonment of the visitors and relatives who attend their hearings and visit them in prison”, the statement reads.

Beyond remit

The Kaliti Correctional Facility administration on its part told EHRC that “most of the demands listed as reasons for the hunger strike are beyond the remit of the administration.”

Adding that the administration does not mistreat the prisoners’ visitors, it explained that two of the prisoners on hunger strike are receiving close medical supervision because they have a prior health condition which requires regular medication.

The Commission said its team was able to confirm the provision of said medical monitoring.

EHRC has also visited Colonel Gemechu and Tilahun, the safety and security of both of whom was said to be in danger in relation to a video footage filmed from inside prison and circulated on social media.

Prisoners Transfer

Both of the prisoners are in good health and have suffered no bodily injury, EHRC reported.

However, Colonel Gemechu expressed his dismay to the Commission with regards to the harassment he has suffered by being transferred to various holding areas several times, according to the statement.

He also said that he was moved from the holding area (zone) he was in before “to another one that puts his safety at risk”.

The prison administration says that prisoners are regularly moved from one holding area (zone) to another and that there are other prisoners in the same area (zone) as Colonel Gemechu.

During the visit, the Commission found one prisoner who had indicated being moved to the area (zone) for breaking prison rules, according to the statement.

Kaliti Prison Administration was preparing to move Colonel Gemechu to another holding area following EHRC’s recommendations in this regard, when the Federal High Court at a hearing on February 3, 2021, ordered for the prisoner to be returned to Kilinto noting that the prisoner’s transfer to Kaliti did not follow due process.

The Commission said it has confirmed the transfer by visiting the prisoner on February 4, 2021.

Supervision needed

EHRC has also investigated the treatment of Tilahun, detained on suspicion of assassinating musician Hachalu Hundessa.

The prisoner is in good health and has told the Commission that he has not been beaten or otherwise suffered any rights violations in Kilinto, according to EHRC. However, he told the Commission that he was mistreated during his detention in a police station, it added.

With regards to the prisoners in Kaliti Correctional Facility who are on a hunger strike, EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele said that “very close supervision is required to prevent any grave threat to their health and life”.

“Reasonably justified demands of the prisoners must be addressed,” said Daniel, adding that “during visits to prisons or attending court hearings visitors must be treated properly”.

Featured Image: EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele (PhD)

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