Treatment of prisoners needs to be improved, Right of opposition parties to operate freely must be guaranteed: EHRC

Addis Abeba, January 25/2021 – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/Commission) said it is concerned at the slow pace of changes to detention conditions and free operation of opposition parties in Gambella Region. The Commission deployed a monitoring team to the region’s Agnwah Zone which, from December 21 to December 24, 2020, also talked to various relevant authorities.

The detention conditions in all the region’s prisons and/or detention centers that the Commission has visited needs to be improved urgently. In particular, the Commission was alarmed to find two boys aged 11 and 12 and a girl, aged 14, detained since mid-December 2020 on suspicion of being members of OLF Shane. At the time of the visit, EHRC urged the authorities for their immediate release and for due investigation and measures to be taken regarding the severe beatings of the two boys. The Commission is deeply concerned that the children remain in detention at the time of this press release. 

The Commission has also found 20 detainees in Abobo City prison and 70 in Gambella City prison, who are largely ethnic Tigrayans, suspected of “supporting TPLF in various ways and of activities aimed at creating discord between people in the region”. EHRC has learned that no federal or regional police investigation had commenced, although the suspects remain in police custody since November 5, 2020.

EHRC raised its deep concerns on the subject to the relevant authorities at the time of its visit and urged for respecting bail rights of the detainees as well as police investigation into the alleged crimes to start promptly.  At the time of this press release, the 90 people remain in detention.  

The Commission’s monitoring team also interviewed representatives of opposition political parties operating in the region. The parties have told EHRC that, despite signing the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Electoral Ethics’, they face difficulties and harassment to get services such as renting offices, moving around freely in various parts of the region and organizing political party events. They have also said some of their members have faced threats and one of them has told EHRC that 35 of its members have been jailed at various times in various towns of the region. The political parties have also given accounts of relatives who have lost their government jobs for being related to an opposition party member and of others who have had “contribution to Prosperity Party” salary deductions without their approval. EHRC was also informed by the political parties that they are also still awaiting response to reservations submitted to regional authorities around a practice of allotment of number of representatives per electoral constituency in the region.   

Relevant regional authorities responded positively during discussions, where EHRC raised this and several other human rights concerns, and informed EHRC that measures have been taken to stop salary deductions from non-members of Prosperity Party.

“Although it is evident that there are a wide range of issues which require the attention of regional authorities, the issue of children in detention and ensuring the bail rights of detainees requires urgent attention” said EHRC Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele.  

The Chief Commissioner also reiterated EHRC’s call for the immediate release of all children in the regional prisons and detention centers, for the bail rights of suspects in detention to be respected and for investigations that are due to resume immediately. The Chief Commissioner has once again urged for EHRC recommendations on prison condition and prisoner treatment to be addressed urgently. Recalling that the election date is fast approaching, Daniel Bekele has also called on “relevant federal and regional authorities to ensure the free movement and activity of opposition political parties.” EHRC Dispatch

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