Yared Hussien, a Survivor of Qilinto Prison Fire

Written By:- Atnafu Brhane

Translated By:- Befekadu Hailu

On the 1st of August 2016, the rumor of officials plan to deny boxed-foods visitors bring to prisoners has been circulating and disrupting the mood in Qilinto Prison. Qilinto Prison is one of the Federal prison facilities in Ethiopia. Concerned prisoners tried to confirm the issue through prisoners’ representatives without a response. On the 3rd of August 2016, the prison administrators posted an announcement that says “due to the epidemic of Acute Watery Diarrhea, boxed food from visitors will not be allowed to be brought for prisoners”. Angry prisoners protested the decision. The prison administrators, then, have locked zone corridor gates with chains.

On that fateful day, Yared Hussien was one of the prisoners detained in Qilinto Zone 2, room number 7. He was a suspect of murder case under trial in detention. He remembers that day,“it was at 9:00 in the morning when angry prisoners started to screaming; the screaming were heard from all the three zones.” In Zone 2, where Yared was also detained, fire started in room number 5. Some prisoners put off their uniforms and thrown it to the field in the center of the zone. Immediately after, gun shots are heard. Prisoners cannot see each other because tear gas was fired into the small compound of the prison zone. The fire that started in room number 5 spread to all eight rooms through the wooden ceilings.

Yared Hussien, 26, was born and raised in Addis Ababa. He was jailed suspected of a murder case which he was acquitted for later. However, while he was detained, Qilinto Prison caught fire and he was again suspected for participating in starting the fire, killing people by suffocating them in the smoke – he was acquitted this charge too. However, he was subjected to sever torture whose scars he is still living with.

Prisoners, who were not able to stay in the rooms due to the fire, were trying to hide in the ditches inside the zone. Yared remembers that he had hidden himself in a ditch in front of room number 6 trying to escape gun shots while breathing clean air. He used to hear non-stop voices of gunshots.  Yared and his Maqdus (one who shares meal with him), Biniam, were crawling towards the gate. His Maqdus was shot on his leg. Yared knows the man who shot against his Maqdus. He named it was a prison-guard named Eyob Gemechu. The guard was shooting from the corridor inside the zone. Yared said that he saw his Maqdus died because he was shot again on his chest.  

Yared’s Suffering

The scars left after torture on Yared Hussien’s body.

Many of the prisoners who survived the Qilinto prison fire were ordered to put off their clothes and shoes. They were transported with T-shirts, shorts and barefooted to Showa Robit prison which is located 214 km away from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. In Showa Robit police started to beat them without an excuse. “They have been throwing water in the floor of the room we were held in; we were forced to sleep on the wet floor for eight days. At the eighth day, policemen came into our detention rooms and said ‘those of you whose names will be called come out’. I had almost believed that we were going to be killed. 54 detainees, including myself, were separated from the rest and taken back to Qilinto prison,” remembers Yared.  These prisoners were taken back to Qilinto, stayed there for an hour and half and went forth to Showa Robit. Then after starts the worst torture they have ever experienced. These prisoners stayed all days and nights handcuffed in pairs. Yared said, “We were handcuffed in pairs, one hand of one person with another hand of another person. I was handcuffed with another person for two months. It was together that we can go to toilet; when one of us sit, the other one stands in. It was really difficult even to put trousers. Nonetheless, police suddenly appears to where we were sitting and beat us.”  

The Interrogation in Showa Robit

Prisoners who were taken to Showa Robit were tortured to force them confess admitting that they were the ones behind the Qilinto Prison fire. Yared Hussien was one of the prisoners who have passed through unbearable torture. Yared says that there was a group of interrogators constituted from Federal and Addis Ababa Police Commissions. “One day,” says Yared, “they took me out of the detention room. Having my hands put in handcuffs, they tied me up with a wooden pole and stretched one of my legs away in a mode prisoners called ‘Nike’. The pain used to feel like my hands were about to be cut off since all my body was carried by it. They inquired me to confess that I broke windows by that time. I said ‘yes, I did’ since I couldn’t bear the pain.”

This confession didn’t stop torture for Yared. He was later forced to confess that he killed his inmates. He was also demanded to confess killing of his friend, Biniam Assefa who, according to Yared, was shot-dead by a guard named Eyob Gemechu while he was crawling with Yared to escape fire from behind and from live bullets in the front. Yared admits that he couldn’t bear the pain of torture that he confessed as if he killed his friend Biniam and other five prisoners. “It was too painful; I was tortured for three consecutive days. They leave me alone while I was tied up while handcuffed… I tried to commit suicide; I have gone into hunger strike… They forced me to self-incriminate myself. They said to me ‘you shut the door behind those prisoners who died in the fire’. There was a new prison under construction in the compound of Showa Robit. The interrogators used to take a detainee named Shemsu Seid and myself to that prison under construction and drag us on the ground tying our legs with a car. Even worse, they have heated an electric bulb with fire and burn my scrotum with it. It hurts. I have decided to say yes to what they were forcing me to falsely admit. It was 10 people that they wanted me to admit killing of; later, they lowered it to six themselves maybe because they thought no one would believe them.”

Back from Showa Robit

Yared was later acquitted of his primary charges that got him in to Qilinto prison in the first place. He was neither charged in relation to the case of Qilinto Prison fire. However, after he was released from Qilinto prison, federal police officers detained him again at the gate of Qilinto and took him to the infamous detention center at the Federal Police Investigation Center, Maekelawi.   In Maekelawi, Yared was held for two months in a dark room. Then he was returned to Qilinto after he was formally charged “for first degree murder of six people by confining them in a room that caught fire in Qilinto prison”.  On the 31st of July 2018, after following the trial for two years in the 3rd bench of Lideta Federal High Court, Yared was acquitted of his charges because the court couldn’t find the evidences presented against him substantial.

Yared was born and raised in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. He is now a 26 years old man who is living with the physical and psychological scars of torture in prison.

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