“I’d suffered in Maekelawi. I’m happy that it is going to be closed and I guess that institutional reforms can stop torture totally from our country. But anyway, it is a good progress and I’m happy finally to hear that it is going to be closed,” these are the words of Befeqadu Hailu.
The 37-year-old blogger was arrested in April 2014 along with five other bloggers and three journalists. Their offence being that they were inciting violence through their publications. Befeqadu spent 84 days in Maekelawi – a facility notorious for torturing detainees.
Speaking to the CGTN Africa service, an emotional Befeqadu relived memories of the hard time he and other detainees had to endure.
We used to have a right to visit too late, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. We don’t have access to clinics, the cells are cold small and congested.
“We were interrogated in physical and psychological harassment. Then we get back into a home that is locked, all day locked. We used to have sunlight only for 10 minutes within a day.
“We used to have a right to visit too late, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. We don’t have access to clinics, the cells are cold small and congested,’ he added.
He is author of a widely published letter calling for reforms in Ethiopian prisons. Incidentally, he wrote the letter in jail and had it smuggled out when he was being transferred for Maekelawi to another facility. The letter exposed horrors in the place and called for reforms.
Befeqadu describes himself on Twitter as “An AfriCAN blogger and activist messing with the authoritarian world constitution of lies and myths with pen. Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.”
The Maekelawi prison located in Addis Ababa was the subject of a Human Rights Watch report that exposed degrading rights abuse and torture of persons being held there. The rights group and others have hailed the government’s decision to close it down and turn it into a modern museum.
In a January 3, 2018 press conference by heads of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the EPRDF, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the facility established in the erstwhile Derg regime will be replaced by one that met international standards.
The coalition also announced the decision to free a category of politician prisonsers whose cases were to be dropped and also pardoned. There has yet to be any timelines to the promises which some political watchers have described as too good to be true.