Looking Back – A 1974 Amnesty International’s Report on Obbo Haile-Mariam Gemeda’s Death in Prison in 1969
On August 24, 2013, the Oromo Nation was shocked to learn thatObbo Tesfahun Chemeda, an engineer by profession, a student activist and a UNHCR mandate-holding refugee refouled by Kenya to Ethiopia in 2007, died in the notorious prison of Qaallittii after six years of torture in the Ethiopian prison. As the report quoted below shows, Obbo Tesfahun Chemeda died in a similar way as ObboHaile-Mariam Gemeda, who died in an Abyssinian prison in 1969 – after continuous torture by the Ethiopian government’s security apparatus. Obbo Haile-Mariam Gemeda was a lawyer by profession and the General Secretary of the Macha Tulama Self-Association Association at that time. Obbo Haile-Mariam Gemeda was imprisoned, along with other leaders of the Oromo civic Association, by the Emperor Haile-Selassie regime when the Association was banned in 1967 for it attempted to spread literacy and develop basic infrastructures among the Oromo.
The following is a quote from Amnesty International – reported in 1974, when the Monarchy was still in power – on the case of the 1967 Oromo Trial and reports of torture at the notorious Abyssinian prison of Alem-Bekagn, which was speaking in Afan Oromo just like today’s Abyssinian prisons. Note also that, by 1969, there were also many Oromo political prisoners, such as Oromo freedom fighters from the Bale Oromo Revolt (1963-1970), thus the statement that “Ethiopian prisons speak in Afan Oromo” would have been true even back in the 1960′s.
Here’s the quote from Amnesty International (1974):
“The student unrest and ethnic discontent have led to charges of torture being made against the Ethiopian authorities. The first such reports to reach Amnesty from private sources date from 1967, when several leaders of the Mecha and Tulema Association, an ethnic organisation of the [Oromo], were arrested and tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. It was alleged that some of the accused in this trial were extensively tortured by the Ethiopian police over a period of six months in order to extract from them confessions to be used in court. The tortures alleged included beatings, deprivation of sleep and food, and suspension from a rod. Subsequent to this torture several witnesses retracted in court what they claimed to be statements extorted under duress. Following the sentencing of the accused, ill-treatment reportedly continued during their confinement to prison in Addis Ababa. The General Secretary of the Association, Haile-Mariam Gemeda, died in prison in 1969. His colleagues in the Association claim that he died as a result of torture, and was paralysed and bedridden for two years before his death. The Ethiopian authorities state that he died of ‘natural causes.’”