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Less than a week after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pledged a flawless prosecution of suspects facing terrorism charges, a leading suspect and opposition politician Andualem Aragea was severely beaten in police custody.
Andualem, vice chairman of the main opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), is currently under police custody facing terrorism charges he rejects as being politically motivated.
The politician who had recently risen in ranks within the party is being kept in Kaliti prison which is located in the outskirts of the city.
Prime Minister Meles appeared in parliament on February 8 pledging to stage a flawless and transparent prosecution of suspects in custody. “We did not send these people abroad to other countries or military courts; we took them to an independent court and their trial has been fully transparent,” Meles told MPs.
“On February 15, Andualem was beaten severely inside his cell,” said UDJ in a statement released earlier this week.
Fearing that he would be killed, Andualem is refusing treatment, the UDJ leader said. The politician, reportedly beaten to unconsciousness, was attacked by a convict named Ibas Asfaw.
Ibas, confirmed as Andualem’s attacker by authorities, is serving life for murder after a death sentence handed out to him was commuted through pardon.
Prison officials who admitted Andualem was attacked say it is an ordinary incident which is a result of a quarrel between the politician and the convict.
“Prisoners awaiting judgment shall be kept separate from prisoners serving a sentence,” says the country’s criminal code.
Why the law was undermined and the convict was recently placed in a cell with Andualem remains unanswered.
This is not the first time safety of suspects under Ethiopian prisons has been called into question.
“Prison and pre-trial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common, especially in sleeping quarters,” said the United States State Department annual human right report in its latest edition.
“Numerous reliable sources confirmed in April 2009 that at Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions. Several prisoners who were held at Maekelawi and other nontraditional detention facilities independently claimed with credible detail that they and other detainees were tortured in police station jails in attempts by security officials to elicit confessions before their cases went to trial.”
UDJ says PM Meles is failing to adhere to the laws of the country and protect the safety of the suspects under police custody. UDJ says the convict Ibas also took away Andualem’s documents that were prepared as a defense to the court procedure.
Back in January the Federal High Court ordered 24 suspects under the charge file of Andualem Arage etal to defend themselves.