The Law, Justice and Democracy Affairs Standing Committee of the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) announced on Thursday that it has verified the notorious detention and interrogation center in Ethiopia known as Ma’eklawi has been without prisoners for the first time.
The infamous detention center, which has been used by successive governments for interrogating suspects, now provides a temporary shelter for the displaced people who have survived the deadly violence that erupted last September in Burayou town, Oromia Regional State – located in the North West of Addis Ababa.
Members of the Standing Committee, who made the visit to Ma’eklawi, verified that there are no detainees.
During the visit, Police Commission officials briefed MPs that Ma’eklawi was fist shutdown in March and has not kept any prisoners since then.
Having concluded the visit at the center regarded as the Third Division Police station which used to be Federal Police Commission’s headquarters; MPs also went to visit Addis Ababa Police Commission Prison center conventionally known as Sostegna where around 139 federal detainees are kept on a temporary basis after their transfer from Ma’ekelawi.
The closure of the center was first decided in early 2018 during the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) congress and was announced by former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn. The closure of the prison center was said to be a gesture towards the massive ongoing reforms following a series of protest and violence.
Initially, it was said that the center would be turned into a museum. However, it is not clear yet on how long the displaced people will stay there.
The detention center, widely regarded as one of the places where suspects are tortured was supposed to be a Center where detainees are kept during an investigation.
While announcing the decision to close Ma’ekelawi in early January, the then PM Hailemariam linked the facility to the atrocities committed by the Derg, and said that the facility would become a museum.
Human Rights Watch concluded in a report in 2013 that abuses at the center were widespread.
Referred by some as the “Guantanamo of Ethiopia”, its news of closure came days after the government released a documentary entitled “Yefitih Sekoka,” literally translated as “Agony of Justice.”
The documentary, presented in Amharic and aired by state broadcasters and other TV stations, mainly features shocking stories of torture and abuse of citizens at the hands of security officers in Ma’ekelawi and other secret torture chambers (black sites) in the capital, Addis Ababa.
The documentary, which is believed to have been produced by the Office of the Attorney General, aired the shocking accounts of rights violated with evidence collected by interviewing individuals who claimed to have been victims of the unimaginable, inhumane treatment.
As disclosed in the documentary, Ma’ekelawi was one of the most significant places that exposed security officers’ cruel treatment of prisoners or suspects.