Blogger Befekadu Hailu weeps talking about Maekelawi prison

Ethiopians welcome closure of notorious prison
By Marie Claire

A decision from the Ethiopian Prime Minister to shut down a prison that has been accused of using torture has been welcomed by many in the country.

Befekadu Hailu, who spent time in the Maekelawi detention Center, that has for 3 decades been a symbol of brutality, shares his story with CGTN’s Coleta Wanjohi

In April 2014 Befekadu Hailu, a blogger, was arrested alongside 5 other colleagues and 3 journalists.

The state accused them of inciting violence using their blogs.

They were detained at the Maekalawi prison in Addis Ababa, a detention center that has for decades been accused of using torture for interrogation.

Befekadu says the dark memories of his 84 days in the prison are still fresh.

“We were interrogated in physical and psychological harassment. Then we get back to a room that is locked all day long. We used to have sunlight only for ten minutes within a day, we used to have right to visit toilet 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening, we didn’t have access to clinics, the room cells are cold small and congested.” Befekadu said.

Befekadu managed to sneak out a letter while he was being transferred from Maekelawi prison to another.

The letter, which was widely published, outlined the dire treatment in the prison and called for reforms.

4 years later, as the Ethiopian government decides to close down this prison, the 37 year old cannot hold back his emotions.

“I suffered in Maekalwi , I suffered ¡­I’m happy that it is going to be closed but I’m afraid there are still a lot of other detention places and small police detention places where people are being tortured that should all stop, and I guess institutional reforms can stop torture totally from our country, but anyway it is a good progress and I’m happy finally to hear that it is going to be closed.” Befekadu said.

The closure of the prison has also been applauded by members of opposition parties in Ethiopia.

Changing Anti-terrorism proclamation is also our demand because it violates our constitution. So it is a result of the people so it is not final, we will go forward and we want to change the country democratically.” Chairman of the Blue Party, Yeshiwar Assefa said.

The government has also announced that based on an assessment, members of political parties or individuals who have been convicted or are suspected of having committed crimes will either be pardoned or have their cases annulled

Although no firm timeline has been given for the closure of the Maekelawi prison or the release of the other prisoners, those who have been on the inside like Befekadu , hope that the process will happen quickly.