September 4, 2011


Classified United States diplomatic cables sent from US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Released by Wikileaks




E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/24/2017


Classified By: P/E Counselor Kevin Sullivan
for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: In a recent meeting, respected local NGO
leader Pastor Daniel Gebraselassie (strictly protect)
confirmed reports by Amnesty International of arrests and
police beatings of a group of teachers. However, he told
Poloff and officials from European Embassies that the numbers
were much larger than originally thought, and that the
prisoners, who are all also supporters of the opposition
Coalition for Unity and Democracy party, had been tortured by
police using methods commonly utilized by security forces
under the Derg regime. Though most of the prisoners were
eventually released thanks to efforts by Pastor Daniel
Gebraselassie, he fears their arrest is part of a larger GoE
program to identify and suppress (illegal) opposition groups
in the Oromiya and Amhara regions since the start of
operations in Somalia. Pastor Dan suggested that such orders
are not coming from senior leaders, but rather that these
practices exist among lower-level security officials. Post
is still trying to assess how widespread torture has been and
to what extent senior officials were aware of it. In any
case, Post intends to elevate human rights issues as a point
of concern in all official Embassy meetings. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (S/NF) On January 4, 2007, Amnesty International issued a
report that three representatives of the largest Ethiopian
trade union, the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA), had
been detained by police in December and had been subjected to
torture in prison. The three were allegedly being held at
Maikelawi, the central investigation bureau in Addis Ababa.
Though the prisoners had appeared in court, no visitor had
been allowed to visit them. (NOTE: The ICRC does not have
access to federal detention facilities. END NOTE) The ETA is
generally viewed by the GoE as having close ties with
opposition political parties and has been subjected to
harassment and arrests of its members since the EPRDF came to
power in 1991 (reftel).

¶3. (S/NF) Pastor Daniel Gebraselassie (Pastor Dan) (strictly
protect), head of the local NGO Prison Fellowship ) Justice
for All, and a close Post contact, was recently granted
access to visit the ETA prisoners following persistent
requests. Pastor Dan subsequently invited Poloff and
colleagues from the German, British and Dutch Embassies who
represent a multi-Embassy human rights working group, to hear
the findings of his visits. Pastor Dan, who maintains very
friendly relations with the GoE, nonetheless said that 45
detainees in total were being held, not three as reported,
and that 25 of them were representatives from the ETA.
Others, he said, were simply factory workers or government
employees. All of the 45 were being held on suspicion of
involvement with the Ethiopian Patriotic Front, a rebel
opposition group with alleged ties to Eritrea. However, the
real common thread among all the detainees, according to
Pastor Dan, was that they are Coalition for Unity and
Democracy (CUD) supporters, and come from Addis Ababa or the
Amhara region – strongholds of CUD support. Pastor Dan told
the group that some of the prisoners had been observers in
the 2005 elections; others were CUD members and organizers,
some of whom received support from CUD North America.

¶4. (S/NF) Over the course of several weeks, Pastor Dan
(strictly protect), in collaboration with the head of the
Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Ambassador Kassa
Gebrahiwot, met with GoE representatives (“actors behind the
scenes”) to secure the release of these prisoners. Indeed,
following their efforts, the first instance court ruled that
there was insufficient evidence and ordered the prison to
release them. Though the prison officials initially did not
heed the courts ruling, continued pressure from Pastor Dan
and Ambassador Kassa led to all being released. Four,
however, have been detained once again on new charges that
they are members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and
currently remain in jail. Pastor Dan is working on their

ADDIS ABAB 00001277 002 OF 003


¶5. (S/NF) Through meetings with these prisoners while
detained and following their release, Pastor Dan learned that
they were subjected to severe torture while in prison.
(NOTE: Prisoners refuse to meet with Ambassador Kassa, saying
that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is not independent
of the GoE. END NOTE) Pastor Dan told Embassy officers that
prison officials used Derg-era techniques ) e.g. hanging
prisoners from the ceiling in arm shackles, beating the soles
of their feet and hanging boards from their testicles ) to
try to extract confessions. One of the prisoners reportedly
died from injuries sustained while in prison, though prison
officials maintain that he is “sick in the hospital.”
Another of the former prisoners reported that when he was
arrested, police dragged him out of his place of work and was
pistol-whipped by plain clothes security forces on the way to
the detention facility. The released detainees told Pastor
Dan that others detained after them on similar suspicions are
still held in Maikelawi. In follow-up meetings with prison
officials, Pastor Dan was told that such reports are
incorrect and that the prisoners were never tortured.
However, in a meeting with the Federal Police Commissioner,
he was told that some low-level interrogation officers lack
the proper training and can sometimes use unsanctioned
methods. Pastor Dan told the group of Embassy officers that
“officials at the PM cabinet level” do not condone torture
either, and that in the past seven years nearly 200 prison
employees had been fired for improper behavior.

——————————————— –
——————————————— –

¶6. (S/NF) In discussing the possible impetus to arrest these
45 prisoners, and others allegedly still held, Pastor Dan
told the group that since around the time of Ethiopian
operations in Somalia, the GoE has increased its operations
against opposition groups in the Amhara and Oromiya regions.
This corroborates the contentions Post has heard from Oromo
political party members, many of whom accuse the government
of using the OLF as an excuse to harass its members
throughout the region. Pastor Dan also theorized that this
activity would not end soon, as he said some are interpreting
recent rhetoric from the GoE as prepping the public for
military activity with Eritrea.

¶7. (S/NF) Clandestine sources have also reported large
numbers of arrests in the December 2006 to March 2007 time
period of CUD and alleged OLF supporters. Some of those
arrested are brought to Maikelawi for interrogation.
However, many opposition politicians maintain that many
arrested in such suspicions are never brought to federal
facilities, and are instead handled at the local level.
Clandestine sources also report that many detainees at
Maikelawi are held for extended periods for interrogation
prior to any court appearances, sometimes for up to a year.
In addition, clandestine sources report torture of prisoners
at Maikelawi, as well as the recent case of two suspects
arrested on suspicion of links to the OLF who were shot dead
in their cells after confessions were extracted.


¶8. (S/NF) Pastor Dan sits on the President’s pardon board,
and through his work with his NGO Prison Fellowship, is often
given access to visit prisons when no other outsiders are
allowed. Though some opposition figures believe he is too
close to the GoE, Post has found him to be one of the few
Ethiopians who can be truly be considered politically
neutral. (NOTE: He is also one of the “Elders” that are
leading negotiations with the CUD detainees. END NOTE) Post
deems him to be a reliable source and his decision to brief a
group of Embassy officials on this highly sensitive subject
is noteworthy. During the brief, Pastor Dan was visibly
upset in describing his discoveries and while he notes the
need to act on this information, he recognizes that this is
particularly difficult. Post and other Embassies, if
addressing the issue, cannot name Pastor Dan as a source for

ADDIS ABAB 00001277 003 OF 003

such information without compromising the level of access he
maintains. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission may be the
only institution that can hold the government’s feet to the
fire for such activity. However, many do not believe the
Commission is independent and that it would never implicate
the GoE for torture. (NOTE: In a recent meeting with EU
Ambassadors, the Commission declared that torture does not
occur in Ethiopian prisons. END NOTE)

¶9. (S/NF) The GoE appears to be clamping down on the two
groups that conceivably pose the greatest political threat )
the OLF and the CUD. While elements of Eritrean-backed,
armed, illegal insurgencies continue to operate in Ethiopia,
as well as in Somalia, the legal opposition caught in the
crossfire will suffer the most in this fight. Many
reportedly moderate opposition members have been harassed or
arrested on the accusation of being part of insurgent groups.
If the general population is given no choice other than
support of the EPRDF or illegal opposition groups, democratic
development in Ethiopia will remain stalled.

¶10. (S/NF) Post is still attempting to assess how prevalent
the use of torture is in GoE facilities, as well as whether
senior GoE leaders are a aware of such practices. Pastor Dan
has suggested that high-level instructions for the use of
torture were not given. Regardless, human rights issues
remain this Embassy’s top concern, and we will now go one
step further and raise human rights issues in all meetings by
Embassy officers regarding all matters, including assistance.
In addition, we will discuss these incidents with EU
colleagues in order to coordinate responses.
[Ambassador Donald] YAMAMOTO


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