On their way back to home from the ‘training’ in Awash Sebat (military training center used for ‘rehab training’ for detainees who participated in protests in Ethiopia), Nurhassen Hussen was ‘privileged’. Trainees were transported by bus to the capital and had to take their own means to reach home, the ‘generosity’ of the trainers was with him on his way back home on the day of the release. Exceptionally for Nurhassen, however, the ‘guys’ were ‘generous’ in offering him a ride directly to his home. They also did leave him a phone number to which he could dial any time he wants to reach out to them.
This was because the guys gave him their words that they would cover any of his medication expenses whenever he wants to see a doctor. The next morning Nurhassen dialed the number taking the promises for real. The line didn’t work. It was then that he doubted whether that number was real and the promises weren’t mocks.
Nurhussien is among the thousands who were detained by government forces following the protests in Oromia, the largest and most populous region of Ethiopia. He was taken from Alemgena town around Woletie to Awash Sebat federal police training camp as of the effectiveness of the country’s state of emergency on the 8th of October, 2016. It was only few days after his wife gave birth when he was taken by the police. He used to assist the family by earning living in his labor works.
He was also among the ones that had the hardest times at the camps. He was interrogated at Awash Sebat many times. But Nurhussien remembers what happened to him one day during the interrogation as exceptionally harsh and terrible experience. The interrogators put thinly steels in between his fingers and started pooling his fingers backwards. Struggling with the pain, Nurhassen was hearing the sounds of his breaking fingers. The three interrogators dealing with all those sorts of ‘interrogations’ were from the government intelligence service. The only words they spoke to him during the whole interrogation were ‘we know what you have done. Just confess! And tell us your allies!’
While struggling with his hand pain Nurhassien’s was moving his legs, which pushed one of the interrogators away. That being an immediate cause, the worst among the punishments followed. All three started beating Nurhussien as much as they could then he fainted. The interrogators assuming he is dead, left him.
Murmuring their complaints over the practices of their other ‘government friends’ that make them blamed for what happens, the police staff together with his colleagues checked if the body they found next morning was dead. For their surprise, Nurhussien was alive. They took him to a clinic and his life was saved. As he woke up, Nurhussien did realize that different parts of his body were highly injured. Most of all, he noticed that his leg at the bottom was broken and his bones disordered.
It was in this condition that Nurhussien was forced to attend the ‘concentration shift’ training’. During those times, to walk by self was unthinkable for him so that he had to get assistances of others to move from place to place. Even if he insisted to get continuous medication, he was not allowed. They told him he would get medication after the completion of the training. He was hoping he would get medication he dials the given number on next day of his release.
Many similar stories are there regarding the measures the government forces took following the political unrest in Oromia and Amhara regional states. The measures are characterized by murders and serious physical injuries on suspects detained. The measures included but not limited to: mass arrests of citizens including children under 18 and senior citizens and force them to attend the ‘concentration shift’ training in military camps. Among those unlucky ones in Awash Sebat, a family consisted of six family members is worth-mentioning. Gemedu Geriso, 17, was one of the member of this family who was detained while on their way home at public transport. No other family member or relative had the information about their detention so that there was no one to visit or ask about them. Meskerem Abera and her sister Tigist Abera were also detained in a similar manner. Individuals who were detained are accused of ‘attending peaceful demonstrations’ before the declaration of the state of emergency witness that the inhumane treatments revealed at military camps such as “Awash Arba”(Oromia region), “Awash Sebat( Oromia region)”, “Bir-Sheleko ( Amhara region)”, “Tolaye( Amhara region)”, and “Senkelie( Amhara region)” were not any better for those detained after the declaration.
The aforementioned camps share the following treatments in common;
- Torture that made many victims physically unconscious (tying up private organs of victims with a plastic bottle full of water, tying hands and legs and beating, putting a thinly steel in between fingers, dropping burning plastic materials on detainees back etc.)
- Restriction on access to family visit
- verbal threats
- suffocating over 100 detainees in a small room
- highly labor intensive works
- deprivation of meal
- lack of medication to the injured
- absence of private hygiene keeping instruments( especially for women)
- forced defecating on an open area in mass at a time
It is to be recalled that the government has detained over 24,000 citizens in its different camps since it has declared the state of emergency. Thousands were already detained before the declaration especially in “Bir-Sheleko” of Amhara and “Awash Sebat” of Oromia regions, thus the number is excluding those who were detained in those military camps before the declaration. Even though those taken from the capital Addis to “Awash Sebate” had a relatively better treatment at arrival, they were shocked as they saw what it was like to be at the camps previous to their arrival. An opposition party member who was among the ones taken from Addis Abab to “Awash Sebat” remembers the terrible scenario he saw in his own eyes.
“As we arrived at Awash Sebat, I saw prisoners walking in pairs looked after by soliders. They were naked except under-wears to cover their private organs. All you see in front of you is walking bodies of human beings whose clothes worn out from their body. Darkened and blazed by the sun, underweight and highly injured. Quit fearful. They were taken there a month earlier I was told. The majority of them were from Oromia. It was clear they were highly tortured and labored. You find it hard to believe what you see is real. It was like a movie”
Though the EPRDF led government has officially acknowledged that its own internal problems were responsible for the out bursting protest and apologized for the measures it took so as to handle the protest, the acknowledgment and apologies seem to be mere public relations work as usual. No single official has been accountable for the various murders and serious physical injuries yet. On the contrary, it has continued taking similar measures against anyone who attempts to criticize the government and demand his/her rights. On the other hand, victims like Nurhussien are left alone with injured bodies, false promises, and phone numbers that do not exist at all.