Torture Reported During Court Hearing of Ethiopian Activists

23rd November 2015  By Melody Sundberg

Blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu, along with Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, have spent 503 days behind bars. Today, they were scheduled for a court hearing. 

Zelalem Workagegnehu is a human rights activist and blogger at De Birhan, a news and analysis website focusing on politics, culture and social issues in Ethiopia and East Africa. Together with Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, Zelalem was arrested on July 8, 2014. The young men were accused of applying for terror training, when in fact all they had done was apply for a course in internet security. They were also accused of having links to Ginbot 7, an organization that according to Human Rights Watch is “banned for advocating armed overthrow of the government [of Ethiopia]”.

Zelalem, Bahiru and Yonatan. Picture used with permission from

Zelalem, Bahiru and Yonatan. Picture used with permission from

According to De Birhan, the detainees do not have links to Ginbot 7. De Birhan writes that the accusation is a “baseless attempt of finding a pretext to associate them to a bogeyman that can aggravate their suffering, charges and sentence” and that “these individuals have not had a violent or anti-peace element in them; they all wished, thought, discussed or wrote what they considered were alternatives for the socio-economic and political development of their country”.

November 23, Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru were heard at Lideta High Court, located in Addis Ababa. People attending the hearing live tweeted from court, making it possible for concerned citizens and activists to follow the hearing online.

Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru were jailed in Maekelawi before being transferred to prison. Maekelawi is the name of the infamous Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the place is known for its poor detention conditions, unlawful interrogation tactics, and torture.

Bahiru Degu told the court that he was waterboarded while being imprisoned in Maekelawi. According to The Independent, waterboarding is a torture method where a person’s face is being covered by a cloth. Water is then poured over the mouth and nose, creating a very strong sensation of drowning. Bahiru was forced to drink his own urine and was flogged while naked. Zelalem told the court that he was held in solitary confinement for 41 days. During this time, he was beaten and insulted.

The hearing of Zelalem, Bahiru and Yonatan was adjourned for November 24, 2015. Read about the hearing on De Birhan.

Melody Sundberg
Project manager of Untold Stories. Photographer and artist. Educated in Psychology.

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