Prisons that Held Gemechu Ayana Can’t Crush Self-Determination’s Spirit
By Worku Burayu (PhD), January 1, 2020
During the times of apartheid, it was said that some prisons reached almost 200% of what the prison was built to hold. The exact copy of that prison is in Ethiopia’s capital city. The members of the Oromo society filled the prisons in Ethiopia like it had been the case in community of South Africa during apartheid. “No inmate came from other regional states except from that of Oromia’s Regional State,” Gemechu said.
Colonel Gemechu Ayana, commander of the 8th Mechanized Force, joined the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) abandoning the TPLF regime in 2006. When he was in Ethiopian Military Forces Gemechu was once arrested with his two friends, the now Ethiopian Defense Minster Lemma Megerssa and Commander Nemera Regassa on allegations of connection with Oromo Liberation Front. Gemechu secretively organized militaries with Oromo background in Ethiopian army forces until he finally flee his country with other high-ranking military personnel. After 12 years’ service in giving training to Oromo Liberation Army, he re-entered Ethiopia with other OLF members in September 2018. Two months after his entrance to Ethiopia, Colonel Gemechu Ayana was arrested on January 17, 2019 at the “Third Division of Police Station” in the Capital city on allegations of terrorism illustrates the Ethiopian authorities’ continued abuse of the country’s anti-terror laws. This prison station is the country’s most notorious center right now and is sharing the same fence with once the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, commonly known as Maekelawi. After the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector (Maekelawi) closed, many of Ethiopia’s political prisoners—opposition politicians, journalists, protest organizers, alleged supporters of and high-ranking members of OLF, and many others—are first taken to this station. There, they are interrogated. Today, prison at “Third Division of Police Station” is a maximum-security prison with a status of overcrowding, neglected conditions, and causing mental sufferings and physical deterioration to inmates. It is one of the several prisons of Ethiopia commonly referred to as a gulag where many Oromo political prisoners are under the circumstances of death due to starvation and maltreatment. My claim is substantiated by Colonel Gemechu Ayana’s interview and his physical appearance.
Although not of his own choosing, Colonel Gemechu spent almost a year in two prisons centers. After his release, Gemechu compared the prison center at the “Third Division of Police Station” with Robben Island, once a notorious prison center in South Africa. After one month in dark dangerous prison cell that has six secured gates, Gemachu was transferred to 24 m2 area where other 16 inmates were found. He spent seven months there and finally transferred to Qilinto Prison, from which he was released on December 24, 2019. Qilinto Prison Center, 11 km from Finfine serves as the main prison of the country equivalently called as “The Prison House of Oromo.” Gemechu estimated about 9,000 Oromo Prisoner of Conscience (POC) in Ethiopia. According to my information there are more than 20,000 Oromo Prisoner of conscience, or what Peter Benenson, called as “The Forgotten Prisoners” in official and hidden or unknown prison centers, spots, places or palaces. Tens of thousands of whereabouts are unknown. Oromos have been imprisoned and/or persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs, because of their race, religion or political views. No single media in Ethiopia or outside of the country wanted to expose such horrific situation. Totally, it hasn’t been given local or worldwide attention.
Gemechu lost 24 kg during his prison time (from 76 kg to 52 kg). Witnesses say Gemechu did not lose his dignity and moral value while imprisoned. The spirit of freedom still burns in his minds and hearts. When an American citizen, a well-known professor in one of the universities in USA visited Colonel Gemechu, the feeling was powerful, a professor recalled. “He brought more calmness over me as a person,” said professor, who met the prisoner before he was released. As a human being, many were in tears after listening to Gemechu’s interview on ONN, OMN, VOA, and BBC, particularly when he mentioned the heinous crime happen to other Oromo prisoners. My wife’s eyes filled with tears as she watched his interview on ONN asking me why such horrific situation happen to Oromo’s at this time. My friend’s wife who was supporter of Abiy administration cursed Abiy after watching Gemechu’s interview on OMN.
Belief it or not, currently, the worst thing is happening in Oromia. Kids are mutilated, adults are castrated, houses and properties are burnt, women and girls are raped, crops and natural forests are destroyed, and generally genocidal act is on the making by the so-called Command Post. Prime Minster Abiy, the 2019 Nobel prize winner must think many times about peace, and his government must address the Oromo question or risk collapsing the entire country. Oromo people must fasten the struggle to exercise genuine self-rule as enshrined in the constitution. Prisons that Held Oromo political prisoners Can’t Crush Self-Determination’s Spirit. My next topic of discussion will be “NOBEL PEACE PRIZE: IT ISN’T ABOUT PEACE.”