Ethiopia – Relatives Fear for Missing Political Prisoners in “Jail Ogaden” near Harar
The notorious prison locally known as “Jail Ogaden”, about 80 kilometers east of the city of Harar, has been the scene of repeated atrocities carried out by the Ethiopian prison guards. The prison where about several thousand political inmates are jailed live in unbearable living conditions, are systemically starved and beaten. The jail with its unhygienic cells are overcrowded with prisoners that experience lack of basic services, a lack of a jail exercise yard and has only two toilets that serve several thousand prisoners. Moreover the Ethiopian guards constantly intimidate the prisoners and severely torture them, including but not limited to beating with sticks, electric shocks and pouring buckets of ice cold water over the heads of the prisoners for confessions during the interrogation.
Ogaden, which is home to about 8-10 million ethnic Somalis who depend on their goats, sheep and camels, is a dry semi-desert region, with low bushes providing what fodder the animals need. It seems like the idealist peaceful nomadic region, however this is a region living in fear. Ethiopian troops patrol the villages and have bases in the main towns. Over the past 5 years repeated atrocities have been inflicted on the local people, who are accused of supporting the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Below follows the testimony of Abdirahman Sharif Zekeriye, who used to be part of the Liyu police but has since fled the country. It offers a rare glimpse into a region from which all independent journalists & international aid agencies have been banned.
“We had to form queues whenever we were getting in and out of the cells due to the problems of the overcrowded cells. We had to sit forming queues based on tribes and clans in the yard. We knew that a spy was among us because during the nights Ethiopian guards used to come and take away selected prisoners because due “special interests”. The lucky few were returned back, but those who weren’t, were never seen again”, said Mr. Zekeriye who spent 4-years in “Jail Ogaden” before he became part of the Liyu police.
A large number of political inmates have disappeared and their whereabouts still remain unknown after they have been taken out from the prison. This comes after rumors spread throughout the city which indicate that Western NGOs heading to Jigjiga might demand to pay visit the notorious “Jail Ogaden” .
“Whether it ( the disappearance) is related to the rumors or not, we aware that the Ethiopian government has transported a large number of prisoners including my son and his uncle to an unknown location and are still missing, we are very concerned about their well-being as my son was having medical problem while my brother is said to be in a life threatening condition after several hours of sustained beatings by the Ethiopian guards”, said a father that contacted us and declined to be named for fear of reprisal.
A news article on the Diasporas-run website, Ogaden.com reported the death of 98 inmates in the jail in the last couple of weeks alone, citing a source from the website’s reporter and individuals with the Ethiopian Administration in Jigjiga. Most of them died of violence and hunger, the article added.
The Ogaden region, which is twice the size of England and Wales together with a population of about 8-10 million has been ravaged by famine, droughts, tribal conflicts and successive wars between secessionists and regimes of Ethiopian highlanders.