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News: OLLAA says detention of OLF PR without charges, denial of medical treatment violation of international laws

Batte Urgessa, Public Relations Bureau Head, OLF

Addis Abeba – The  Oromo Legacy Leadership Advocacy Association (OLLAA) issued a statement yesterday discussing the detention of detained OLF PR Batee Urgessa. The association detailed the medical condition of Batee and the circumstances surrounding his detention.  

The statement noted that Batee was released on Friday, March 11, 2022 in order to receive medical care.  The OLLAA quoted sources as saying that he was only released because there was no hope of recovery for him in prison and that he may need to receive treatment from abroad. The OLLAA recalled that Batee became critically ill during a hunger strike alongisde several other OLF leaders.  “It was here that Bate was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, although our sources reported that officials still refused to let him see his lawyers or doctors,” the statement read.  

Full Statement 

Following recent reports that Bate Urgessa, the Head of OLF public relations, had been diagnosed with Hepatitis B after being detained without charges for close to a year, OLLAA has spoken to credible sources, including a family member and a former colleague, in order to learn more about his condition and the circumstances surrounding his detention.

Bate Urgessa (39) was born in Meqi, East Shewa zone, although he was living in Finfinnee/Addis Ababa at the time of his arrest. He received his first BA from Bahir Dar University and later studied business administration before joining the OLF, where he works as Head of public relations.  Apart from his work as a leading figure for the OLF, Bate is also a devoted husband and father, and his continued detention has kept him from his wife and four children, including the youngest, who was only a year old at the time of his arrest. 

Bate has a long history of political advocacy, including participating in protests during the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPDRF) regime.  It was during one of these protests that Bate was grievously injured by police, who beat him badly before taking him into custody.  During the assault his leg was broken so severely that he needed surgery in order to be able to regain mobility.

On March 20, 2021, Bate visited several of his OLF colleagues who were detained in Burayu prison.  At that time, he and his driver were detained by police.  When he was brought before the court, the court granted him bail, but the police refused to release him, claiming that they were following orders from above.  

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On May 15, 2021, Bate was transferred to Awash Melkasa prison. Sources report that there are over 4,000 people detained in this prison, including many leaders of the OLF, its members, and supporters. Those prisoners who have been released from Awash Melkasa report deplorable conditions in the prison, including that they were kept in a private chicken coop, and that lice from the hens caused the prisoners to contract a variety of illnesses. In addition to the unhygienic conditions at the facility, our sources claim that, while imprisoned here, Bate faced numerous threats from the guards, including claims that they, “have been given the right to kill”, all prisoners from the OLA, including Bate. Bate was also physically assaulted by guards, leaving him with a head wound and a spinal disk injury. Our sources suspect that he contracted Hepatitis B at this time, and report that he did not receive access to medical care following this assault, or for the majority of his time in detention.

After six months, Bate was transferred to the Galan Sololia Oromia Special Forces camp. In early February, he and other leaders of the OLF launched a hunger strike in order to protest their unlawful detention, denial of due process rights, and detention conditions.  Among their complaints were the denial of access to medical care and to counsel.  

During the hunger strike, Bate, alongside several other OLF leaders, became critically ill and was taken to a hospital.  It was here that Bate was diagnosed with Hepatitis B, although our sources reported that officials still refused to let him see his lawyers or doctors.  

On Friday, March 11, 2022, it was announced that, at long last, Bate Urgessa would be released on bail in order to receive medical care.  Our sources report that he was only released because there was no hope of recovery for him in prison, and that he may need to receive treatment from abroad. 

International Legal Standards

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) set out that the right to liberty protects citizens from arbitrary arrest and detentions, which are arrests and detentions that are not in accordance with the procedures established by law.  The continued detention of an individual without charges or a trial has been found to constitute arbitrary detention. 

Under international law, States have the duty to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the person (ICCPR article 10) and are not subjected to toture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Torture has been defined under the Convention Against Torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” 

The right of detained persons to access medical care has its basis in the right of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and respect to the inherent dignity of the person (ICCPR article 10), as well as in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which sets out that all persons have the right “to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” In addition, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) set out that States have a responsibility to provide health care for its prisoners, and that “Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.” 

Finally, the Nelson Mandela rules also lay out several principles that are also relevant to the treatment Bate Urgessa experienced while detained, including, but not limited to:

  • The right of prisoners to communicate with their family at regular interviews, including by receiving visits from their family (Rule 58); 
  • The opportunity to consult with legal counsel (Rule 61);
  • All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation (Rule 13). Dispatch

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