Saturday October 1st 2016
By Zecharias Zelalem, special to Addis Standard
On Saturday, September 3rd 2016, something sinister, ghastly, premeditated and honestly speaking somewhat poorly calculated, transpired in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Abeba. The tragedy in question has, for the most part, managed to avoid the sort of outcry and global condemnation these incidents tend to get when the actors involved are from nations not allied with the United States and its NATO affiliates in their “war on terror.” It has been more than two weeks, and already we are faced with subliminal calls from the conceited to pretend it didn’t happen.
At eight in the morning of that fateful day, the Addis Abeba sky, normally coated with layers of the rainy season’s fog was, assaulted by billowing smoke emanating from a raging fire that was consuming parts of the city’s Qilinto prison, home to hundreds of inmates including many political prisoners, activists, journalists and others who, frankly, don’t belong on the premises at all. By all accounts, the fire, which burned and ravaged the prison’s facilities before it was put down by the city’s firefighting brigade, was accompanied by a clearly audible orchestra of automatic gunfire. Exactly who was doing the shooting wasn’t clear nor was it evident who or what was being targeted.
Even before the necessary forces were deployed to secure the safety of the prisoners inside and put a halt to the blaze, federal police officers had cordoned off the area surrounding Qilinto prison and were preventing family and friends of those inside from converging on the scene to inquire about the safety of their loved ones trapped inside. Before any sincere effort to address what should have been the primary concerns, ensuring the wellbeing of everyone within the confines of the prison and rescuing those trapped by the far, regime forces were deployed almost immediately to keep everyone outside of the prison at bay. Regime apologists were quick to claim whatever action was taken was for the public’s security. Almost immediately, however, bystanders and eye-witnesses took to social media to scrutinize every maneuver of the forces enforcing the lockdown of the surrounding areas. Days later it’s easy to say that a significant percentage of Ethiopians believe that there was a deliberate attempt to conceal what was nothing short of a mass killing of prisoners.
Qilinto prison, located on the southern outskirt of the capital city, is where many of Ethiopia’s social justice seeking stalwarts were incarcerated. Many of them are being held there, charged under the vaguely defined anti-terrorism laws that are widely believed to be a part of legislation aimed at stifling dissent. Among the very well-known prisoners were Oromo Federal Congress general secretary and Medrek party member Bekele Gerba, former Semayawi party member Yonatan Tesfaye and Getachew Shiferaw, a journalist. It is said that some 224 prisoners were present at Qilinto when the fire started.
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