Notorious Ethiopian Prison, Qilinxoo (Kilinto), and its Secrets
In its broadcast of yesterday (01/02/2017), the VOA Afaan Oromo presented a harrowing account of inhuman treatments of prisoners in Qilinxo. For me the expression “inhuman treatment” cannot convey the full extent of what is happening in that place.
The suffering: 121 prisoners appeared in the Woyane kangaroo court. The bravery of these prisoners has always left me stunned. As they entered the court room, they were instructed to sit, but they refused. They took time to do prayers for those who perished due to the massacre. The stooges (I would not call them judges) tried to ridicule them saying this is not a church or a mosque. They are not sophisticated enough to know that by saying so they are proving their partisan position, siding with the regime. The prisoners would have none of that nonsense. They did what they wanted and then sat. They then tried to explain to the court the sufferings they are subjected to. 121 individuals in one small and dark prison room! How can they sleep? Of course they can’t sleep. They sit up and lean on each other’s body. No room for anyone to fully rest his body on the ground. It is a luxury to get a space and lie down on a freezingly cold concrete floor! The prisoners vehemently protested in court to get heard and that the judges do something to take their case seriously.
Justice denied (rather extent of denial lowered yet another notch): Then the judge moved on to their farcical court procedure, as they have always done every time prisoners from Qilinxo or elsewhere arrived. The Woyane trick is this – bringing large number of prisoners to the court, so that the entire procedure is consumed by time taken to call out names of prisoners. Imagine the triviality of calling out 121 names and then asking each of them certain standard questions. Yesterday, each prisoner’s name was called out, and he was asked to name his lawyer. Most prisoners replied by randomly mentioning any saint’s name that came to their mind. “Who is your lawyer, ” the judge would ask. “St Emanuel,” says one prisoner, “Jesus,” replies another prisoner, and so on. The judge instructed that each of them to argue his case through his lawyer, but it is abundantly clear that there is no chance of this happening. The prisoners do not have the luxury of leaving prison cells and make deals with lawyers. Even if that was allowed, they do not have the resources. This caused uproars among the crowd of prisoners. What followed is unbearable to imagine – the hotheaded judge was already raged and he was bent on revenge on the poor prisoners. Their next appointment was supposed to be Feb 28. In an act of punishment, the judge delayed it by one month, now March 28, 2017. Apparently the court hearing ended with chaos, prisoners protesting against yet another harsh treatment, this time in court!
he Woyane ploy that we have given up talking about: Every time Qilinxo prisoners are taken to the so called court, I have always listened to or read about it with some anguish. The pain I feel is not only because of the severity and sheer scale of the massacre but also I sense there is something more deeply troubling about Qilinxo. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, people rightly asked the fundamental question – What was the cause of the fire? There were credible accounts given by prison officers that Woyane was likely to have deliberately started the fire, implying what happened in Qilinxo was a premeditated mass murder. Why did Woyane turn to putting a prison on fire that time round? What made that particular time different? The speculation was that Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) leaders were masterminding #OromoProtests from prison so Woyane wanted to eliminate them. This line of thinking was rife immediately after the massacre but before it was known that most OFC leaders were not affected by the incident, except for the shock they were subjected to. I guess we stopped asking that pertinent question, what caused the fire? When we stopped asking, Woyane began offer answers. In a bizarre twist, they squarely put the responsibility of igniting the Qilinxo fire on prisoners themselves. Now the courts are deliberating no more as to why the prisoners are in jail but whether or not the prisoners started the fire. Woyane successfully deflected the case away from itself – one stone two birds!
The Temam Ababulgu insight: That eloquent lawyer, Temam Ababulgu, provided compelling evidences to indicate that Woyane is most likely to have started the Qilinxo prison fire. Unlike social media commentators, Temam saw the motivation elsewhere. In an interview he gave to VOA at the time, he advanced his case as follows. The remains of many of those who were presumed to have been killed by the Qilinxo fire were sent to their families. As it turned out actually those who were taken to families in body bags were Oromo activists who were rounded up and caught at the #GranOromoRally in Finfinnee and sent to concentration camps. Temam knows that there was no chance that their case had gone through the court system and hence the activists were unlikely to have reached in Qilinxo in that short span of time. It follows from this logic that Woyane conducted mass murder of activists elsewhere, and came up with a ploy to bring the dead bodies to Qilinxo and then send their bodies to families blaming the death on the prison fire incident. Temam substantiated his argument by another compelling piece of evidence. The prison authorities opted to release list of the names of 3,000 surviving prisoners instead of the names of 23, the number of people the authorities have claimed were killed in the fire incident. Temam says, obviously it is much easier to list 23 rather than 3,000 names. It is clear why the more tiring and boring choice was taken.
Persistence pays: It looks we are succumbed to the Woyanne narrative of talking only about the innocence of prisoners who are deliberately framed by Woyane, as we say “qawween ajjessetti, ofumaa iyyaa”. On the contrary, it is crucial that activists persist with asking the legitimate questions and seek answers for them: how and why Woyanne is likely to have caused the Qilinxo massacre! The amazing thing is: Woyane learned that it pays to persist and persevere, although they do so to defend and perpetuate packs of lies. On the contrary, I notice we tend to fall behind, obsess with issues for a little while and then give up too soon, fleeting over this and that issue. It is high time that more discussions and fact finding are undertaken, basically starting from where Temam Ababulgu stopped. For instance, at every occasion when Woyane brings prisoners to court criminalizing them, social as well as mainstream media should put the regime in the limelight, that the court cases are cover ups to hide its own misdeeds.