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News: Rights group demands immediate release of individuals of Tigray origin allegedly detained unlawfully in Amhara region

Gondar city (Photo: Social Media)

Addis Abeba – Human Rights First Ethiopia, a human rights organization, is urging regional and federal authorities to take swift action and release multiple individuals of ethnic Tigrayan origin who allegedly remain behind bars unlawfully in the Amhara region.

Over the past three years, over 110 individuals have been taken from western Tigray and surrounding areas of Gondar city in connection with the Tigray war, according to the group. Most of these individuals remain under custody in Gondar, Amhara region.

Some of the detainees were held without formal charges, while others are undergoing trial hearings and have already received sentences of up to a 21-year prison term. Those held without formal charges include individuals such as teachers, bank workers, and government employees, according to Mebrhi Brhane, a legal representative at Human Rights First Ethiopia.

These individuals face charges related to the conflict in Tigray, such as conducting espionage activities on behalf of the TPLF, which was officially recognized as a terrorist group by the parliament at the time. Moreover, they are accused of undergoing military training in Tigray and establishing checkpoints in the town of May Tsebri, situated in the North Western Zone of the Tigray region.

According to the organization, the Office of the Attorney General of Amhara Region presented hundreds of people, who were brought from western Tigray and the surrounding areas of Gonder, before the Gondar division of the Amhara Supreme Court.

Mebrhi explains that a majority of these detainees are still being held in custody, contrary to the provisions of the Pretoria Peace Agreement.

As per Article 7(2)(c) of the Pretoria Peace Agreement signed in November 2022, the federal government has agreed to delist the TPLF from the terrorism list. Several prisoners were already freed between March and April 2023. However, Mebrhi disclosed that numerous individuals from West Tigray and the surrounding Gonder regions are still incarcerated, some without any formal charges brought against them.

Based on the investigative report prepared by Human Rights First Ethiopia and shared with Addis Standard, at least 60 detainees remain in custody at the correctional institution in Dabat. As indicated in the report, these individuals, mostly Tigrayan natives aged between 15 and 60, were taken from their last known whereabouts in West Tigray and Gondar and imprisoned for a prolonged period, disregarding legal procedures.

However, Mebrhi disclosed that eight detainees were released in recent months, even if they were on probation.

One of the detainees who were released recently shared his experience with Addis Standard. “During the war in May 2021, I was taken from my home by Amhara security forces and later transferred to an undisclosed location, where I remained for 20 days without any formal accusations,” he recalled. “Later, I was taken to Gonder prison, where I spent four months without any court hearings. Eventually, I and others were charged with terrorism and alleged collaboration with the TPLF, citing that we provided information.”

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The detainee also expressed concerns about the lack of a proper trial process. “There was no fair trial process; only hearings were scheduled,” he explained. “Moreover, severe human rights violations were rampant, including incidents of physical assault, killings, rape, and various other violations.”

Despite ongoing attempts to communicate with families regarding the detention of individuals, Mebrhi emphasizes that the exact locations and conditions of most of the detainees are still unknown. “As a result, there has been a lack of updated information regarding their status, leaving their futures uncertain and ambiguous.”

In the face of such conditions, Human Rights First Ethiopia is calling for the dropping of charges and the release of those in custody, specifically individuals who are being detained without trial or formal accusations. Furthermore, the organization advocates for the pardon and release of individuals who have been convicted in related cases but are still incarcerated under exceptional circumstances. AS

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