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HRW: Ethiopia’s mass arrests and detentions threaten a new era of human rights progress

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Responding to a statement by Addis Ababa’s police commissioner Major General Degefe Bede that nearly 3,000 youths were arrested in the capital Addis Ababa over the weekend, and that 174 would be charged and 1,200 others would be detained at the Tolay Military Camp for a “rehabilitation education”, Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, said:

“While the Ethiopian authorities have in recent months made a commendable attempt to empty the country’s prisons of arbitrary detainees, they must not fill them up again by arbitrarily arresting and detaining more people without charge. The government must renew its commitment to a new era of respecting and upholding human rights.

“The majority of people were arrested for perceived offences which are not recognised criminal offences under international law, such as smoking shisha or consuming khat. They must be either charged with a recognisable criminal offence or released. Those arrested for taking part in protests on the recent ethnic clashes must all be released immediately and unconditionally.

“The authorities must also ensure that all the detainees have access to lawyers of their choice, and to their families, as well as ensure that not a single detainee suffers torture and other ill-treatment while in detention.”

At a press conference in Addis Ababa, Major General Bede claimed that weekend raids by security forces were a response to rising criminality in the city, and were targeted at robbers and thieves resulting in the arrest of almost 3,000 people.

According to the Commissioner, a total of 1,459 people were arrested in bars and shisha smoking dens. Ninety-four people were arrested for chewing khat, a mild narcotic leaf, and 31 others were arrested in gambling houses. Some of these arrested for chewing khat and smoking shisha have been released.

Another 1,200 youths were arrested for taking part in the 15 September protests on the ethnic violence in Burayu and transported to Tolay military camp in southwestern Ethiopia, where they are being arbitrarily detained with the pretext of “rehabilitation education”.

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