By: Belay Manaye and translated by Befekadu Hailu
Gueled Mohammed is a forty-one-year-old man who worked as the Ethiopia – Somali regional government communications head before he was jailed. He is married with two children. For seven years, he suffered combined arbitrary detention in Jigjiga Zone Prison and Jail Ogaden without being formally charged. He remembers his time in prison as a time when he was a “personal prisoner” of former Ethiopian president, Abdi Mohammed Omar (Abdi Illey).
Jigjiga Zone Prison – Arbitrary Detention
Gueled was jailed twice in three prisons. In his first arbitrary detention, he was held at Jigjiga Zone Prison located in Amira in 2010 where he was detained for eight months without a single appearance before court. He was later released without explanation.
In May 2011, a few weeks after he was released, he was jailed again. This time he was thrown into the infamous and notorious ‘Jail Ogaden’ of Somali region in Ethiopia. There was no drinking water in the prison and this made the prisoners dependent on water trucking. The prisoners received a small quota of water a day, despite the high temperature of the place. In addition to lack of basic needs in detention, Gueled faced intimidated and his family members were harassed.
Gueled did not have access to visitors and he couldn’t see a lawyer while he was at “Jail Ogaden.” He was never taken to court and one explained to him why he was detained.
“In Jail Ogaden, there are torture chambers named Chifnajok,” Gueled says, “Chifnajok were first built to be bathrooms. They are very narrow, half a meter by half a meter wide each. To be put in Chifnajok is the ultimate torture. You can’t sit, you can’t lay but just stand there shaking your exhausted body. They [prison officials] sometimes put two or three people in these small rooms. The rooms are suffocating; people die in them.”
Due to his public visibility, Gueled was not put in Chifnajok.
“The food and water was never sufficient,” He says. “I prefer to be asked which rights are not violated in Jail Ogaden rather than to be asked which rights are violated. Practically, all my rights were violated. They forced us to do labour work. Sometimes, they pay you a piece of cigarette after forcing you to work for three days. The pain passes; but some people die. Jail Ogaden is the biggest torture facility.”
Gueled has never been taken to court in for the entire duration of his detention. One day in October 2011, fourteen prisoners including himself were transported to Zeway Federal Prison. Zeway Prison is a place where convicted prisoners are held but all the prisoners that were taken with Gueled had not been formally charged. On the road to Zeway prison at a place called Qobbo, their bus was stopped by officials from Jail Ogaden. The officials told each of the prisoners their conviction and sentences. Gueled was told that he was charged with “rape” and that he had been found guilty and sentenced to ten years of severe imprisonment. No questions asked.
“Who believes this really happens at this time?” asks perplexed Gueled.
He has never seen any document that shows charges pressed against him.
Zeway Federal Prison
Zeway Prison was better for Gueled.
“There was no physical torture. The food was better than that offered in Jail Ogaden. I was allowed to talk anything I wanted to with inmates,” says Gueled.
He remained hopeful that someone from the federal government would visit him, however, this did not happen.
“It was without a case that I had suffered 6 years and 8 months in jail.”
Finally, Gueled was paroled and released from Zeway Federal Prisons.
Life after Prison
Gueled Mohammed says he was a personal prisoner of former President Abdi Illey. “Abdi Illey jailed me because I spoke, because I breathed” says Gueled Mohammed. “My detention has nothing that seems to have legal ground.”
Gueled has gotten no compensation for the violations of his rights. No one was held accountable for it all. He believes he was released because of people’s pressure. But, even after his release, he had travel restrictions. He was not allowed to leave his town Jigjiga. He was under constant surveillance. He was a government employee before his arrest but now he is unemployed. His life only became harder after his release.
This story was originally posted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, a Non Governmental Organisation that seeks to bolster advocacy by domestic and international actors to advance human rights in Ethiopia. Our advocacy efforts focus on exchange of probative research and critical information with an ultimate goal of heightening awareness of human rights condition in Ethiopia.