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Torture: a word commonly associated with Oromo political prisoners August 18, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Torture survivor.
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A word commonly associated with Ethiopian political prisoners, alias prisoners of conscience. The feeling is so different when you hear a personal account from the very person tortured in Makelawi. An Oromo gentleman tells me his bad experience in that torturing gulag of Ethiopia. He was imprisoned in 2004 on opposing the shift of the Capital City of Oromia from Shager/Addis to Adama. He was 20 years old and a second year of student at Addis Ababa University. In protest to the decision to change the Capital city, thousands of university and high school students demonstrated. In the process, more than 300 students were illegally—merely for political reasons–dismissed from the University. While they were detained at Kolfe Police Training Center for two days, they heard about their dismissal from their university studies from ETV news.

This gentleman remembers how federal police make them walk on their elbows and knees on crooked stone roads. After he was released, it was the Mecha and Tulema Association which rented rooms for the students who had nowhere else to go once they were dismissed from their university campuses. He was residing there for a while until he was rearrested and subsequently taken away to Makelawi. Prior to the re-arrest, while following the university administration’s decision over their case (as they had petitioned for a review of the decision!), he had in the meantime also gone to Ambo to help his relatives with work, intending also to make some money before going back to Addis. At that same time, there was turmoil in Ambo. People were opposing the government. His job in Ambo was to take and bring back his uncle’s children to and from school.

In Ambo, he remembered two high school boys, Jagama Bedane and Kebede Bedasa, shot and killed by a sniper. These students were known for taking active part in leading and organizing the opposition of the Ambo high school students. He told me, when they were killed selectively, they were on normal activity. They were not taking part in any mass protest. They were killed days after the mass protest. And at the time, the school was closed.

Hearing personal stories such as this, apart from learning about the injustice young people of my own generation live with, reminds me of the well-known story of Assefa Maru and the student leaders of the 1960s, who were deliberately aimed at to be killed on the street.

This young man was followed by securities that day. He was informed by an insider, someone who is also a member of the OPDO, that he would be shot by the sniper like the other two on that same day. But thankfully, he was going to the kindergarten to collect the children. But later in the day, the Ambo police called him for ‘interrogation’. And he was forced to spend the night in prison. Because of the insistence of his uncle, they convinced the police to release him the next day after which he immediately left for Addis. That evening, the federal police took him to Makelawi. The charge was that he organized people to initiate a conflict in his village when he was visiting his family. The usual…

In Maekelawi, he told me, there are three type of prison cells: Chelema, Tawila, and Sheraton. Prisoners that are just transferred from other prisons are often sent to Chelema cells. Chellema prison is a house that has smaller cells within. He doesn’t know the exact number of these cells. The cell has the size of a man which is not possible to sit in. He knows there are cells that fit merely the size of one man and those that fit the size of two. He was in both dark cells chained and standing for a 24 hours cycle. He was sharing two people size cell with a man named Guta. He doesn’t know what Guta looks like or who is he. The Chellema prison cellmates usually don’t share information about each other. This is because, they are afraid the cellmate might misinform during the torture interrogation or the cellmate might be a spy assigned by the inspectors. All that time in the dark they chose not to communicate, only sharing their name. He is allowed to go to the toilet only once in 24 hours. Throughout the day, but especially during the nights, he hears the wailing and screaming of other prisoners who cry in agony under the severity of the tortures. The agony is often expressed in Afaan Oromo. He was also taken to other rooms to be beaten every now and then.

In Maikelawi, his first prison was the Tawula room. Where he was summoned for interrogation that involves kicking and insults targeted to break the spirit. He told me, their beating in the middle of the interrogation is not intended to get what they want to hear, it’s simply targeted to hurt. His torturer, named Alemayehu, kicked him on the genitals for no reason. He also told me how Monie Mengesha kicked him on the sheen and left him unconscious. When he wakes up, he found out that he had made his pants wet with urine. Such an interview was conducted after standing for so long hours in the dark room and going back and forth in the cell. And when he feels about to sleep taking him back to the torture room. He told me, he was forced to watch a man of his hands and ankles tied together and hanged on a rod and kicked by different instruments every part of him specially the inside foot ( the style of hanging a sheep).

While they were doing that, the man named Nasser Abdo, hoisted like a sheep and kicked, was having a fluid coming out of his mouth. There was a prison director that was watching when Nasser Abdo was tortured. His name is Taddesse, now he is working as a national bank security and logistic director. There is another torturer named Reta, but his assigned investigator is Alemayehu. He told me, other than the known torturers, there were night time torturers that he couldn’t see their face. This same person Alemayehu was also his prosecutor in the court.

Nasser passed away a week after he was released from prison. The gentleman that I’m telling the story of was sharing a room in Sheraton with Nasser and others. He told me Nasser Abdo’s stamina was so strong. Nasser, whenever he got the time, he was keeping himself busy in studying for high school exam preparation hoping that when he gets released, he will finish his studies, which were interrupted by the arrest. He said when I think of it, this man knows the people that were torturing him, weren’t a human being to think and value what they said at all. At the time, Nasser was encouraging this gentleman not to be affected by the insult they foist upon him, though he couldn’t controls the physical damage the torturer caused. I’m just wondering how many people like Nasser Abdo was keeping their integrity and political stand in that dark suffering cell till the last day and not known by so many including people that share the same belief.

There were also old people that are also a victim of torture and still keep strong in terms of morale. Regarding this he especially remembers a man called Obbo Legese Deti. Obbo Legese Deti now lives in the US. The young man remembers Obbo Legese. On some mornings, he saw Obbo Legese chained, sitting outside in morning sun. This man knows someone in the Tawula room is looking at him from inside via small cracks, so the old man passes a strength and unity sign by making a two hand fist while in chain. He said, while I was in that Tawula room knowing I was noticed by another person gave me strength. He met Oromo individuals from different professions and backgrounds in Maikalawi. Shiferaw Ensamo and Dhabessa Wakjira (now in Australia) were journalists he met there. I wonder if anyone knows where journalist Shiferaw Ensamo is currently. I wonder if he is still in prison or has been released since.

When I asked him in general what he feels now, he said he is tired. And doesn’t care that much about things around him.

Friends, very capable and influential Oromo individuals are in Ethiopian prison! All our LOVE and RESPECT are extended to them. We know they are fighting for each of us and we stand in solidarity with them. Please share what you know about these heroes and heroines still alive or have paid for their cause by giving the ultimate. We thank so much, the gentleman who has shared his story with us!

Read more at:-

http://advocacy4oromia.org/witnesses/torture-a-word-commonly-associated-with-oromo-political-prisoners/

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Oromo: Torture survivor inspired by Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ February 11, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Amnesty International's Report: Because I Am Oromo, Ethnic Cleansing, Sexual violence, Torture survivor.
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Torture survivor inspired by Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’

By Feyera Negera Sobokssa*

Rehabilitated Feyera celebrates X-Mas with his family

February 10, 2015 (Washington Jewish Week) — I am a torture survivor who was persecuted by the government of Ethiopia because I was advocating for the Oromo ethnic group in the country. I suffered so much between 1991 and 1996; even now I feel the severe trauma of what I experienced at the hands of torturers. I was trying to search for the right vocabulary to explain what happened to me.

After traveling to the United States in 2000, I came across a book called Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. This book helped me describe the human brutality and the need to speak out for others who did not have the same opportunity.

This paragraph in Night (p. viii) helped inspire me to become a voice for other victims of torture. Wiesel wrote about the importance of becoming:

“a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.”

When I was a young boy in the 1950s and 60s, I witnessed how the government treated my people, the Oromos. The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, more than one-third of the population. They have their own culture and traditions; our language, Afan Oromo, was banned in schools, government offices and the courts. As a child, I remember seeing Oromo boys beaten if they spoke the language. Even today, the ruling elites in Ethiopia still use the term “galla” to refer to Oromos. “Galla” is a horrible, derogatory word used to dehumanize Oromos and to keep them in a low position.

I was distributing a book called “History of the Galla” in 1991 the first time government agents arrested me. They grabbed me by the arms and took me to a military camp. They forced me to drink something, probably a hallucinogenic drug, and made me dance in front of the soldiers. They wanted to know what types of books I was reading, besides “History of the Galla,” I told them Exodus by Leon Uris was one of my favorite books.

Ethiopian regime's brutally torturing Oromo Students

My worst torture experience was in a military camp in 1995. Soldiers inflicted a terrible kind of torture called “Code Number Eight.” They tied my elbows together, causing terrible pain in my chest and damaging my ligaments and muscles. Then they suspended me on a metal object and kept me like that for long hours for two nights. It was so horrible I remember asking the security forces to kill me. They said “We don’t want you to die, we want you to suffer.”

Torture scene in Ethiopia

I finally escaped Ethiopia in the year 2000, leaving my children behind. My wife was in a special refugee camp in Germany which used to be a Nazi concentration camp. I immediately was granted political asylum. Shortly after that I discovered the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). TASSC is a place that helps survivors give meaning to their lives. They assigned me a case manager who talked to me about PTSD, she listened and cared about me. She also helped my family by writing a recommendation to bring my daughter from Ethiopia to Washington. Today, TASSC provides counseling, housing, health care and pro bono legal services to survivors in the Washington area. It also has an advocacy program where survivors meet congressional staff to create awareness about the impact of torture on victims and their families.

I have always thought the Oromos and the Jewish people have a lot in common because Oromos were persecuted just like the Jews. I realized this a long time ago after readingExodus and visiting the Holocaust museum. It was unbelievable to read about the gas chambers and what happened in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. But Exodus also gave me hope. People who were persecuted can rise from the depths of despair to be free. That made me think that one day Oromos can be free too.

This picture proved for us how the government security forces are beaten those who Protested (Women and youth) against vote rigging.

Last April, TASSC organized a Passover Seder that focused on the universal desire for freedom by honoring survivors and their journey from persecution to freedom. The Bible teaches us the story of Moses, Pharaoh and the Exodus. I brought Night to the seder and shared what the book means to me with the Jews and the other survivors. The Seder was a wonderful connection for survivors because it helped us transform our pain into strength.

Even, innocent women are not spared from torture in Oromia and Ogaden

Ultra-nationalistic totalitarian movements brought Nazism and Fascism to Germany and Italy, creating hatred for minorities. Many people do not know that we also have a totalitarian regime in Ethiopia controlled by a small ethnic group who are oppressing the Oromos and other ethnic groups. We have to fight these kinds of movements everywhere in the world. According to the human rights group Genocide Watch, Ethiopia has already committed “genocidal massacres against many of its peoples.”

Elie Wiesel was right when he said “Silence helps the perpetrators, not the victims.” For this reason, over the last ten years, I have become a TASSC “truth speaker,” going to schools, universities and churches to speak about torture and create awareness about the persecution of the Oromo people. If given the chance, I would welcome the opportunity to connect with the Jewish community in Washington by visiting synagogues and Jewish groups.

*Feyera Sobokssa is a torture survivor from Ethiopia who received political asylum in 2001. He began his political activities as a young man employed as an accountant by Ethiopian Airlines, helping to distribute publications about the Oromo ethnic group and their history of persecution by the Ethiopian government. Feyera is now a spokesman against torture with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC). He is a strong advocate for human rights and for raising awareness about the plight of the Oromos in Ethiopia.

Sources:

Washington Jewish Week

http://ayyaantuu.com/human-rights/torture-survivor-inspired-by-elie-wiesels-night/

Read more at:

http://ayyaantuu.com/human-rights/torture-survivor-inspired-by-elie-wiesels-night/

http://washingtonjewishweek.com/19569/torture-survivor-inspired-by-elie-wiesels-night/