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Is the Ethiopian justice system on the right path of reform?

aljazeera: by Elias Gebreselassie

An infamous prison was closed and there are bids to prosecute officials who abused power, but activists remain cautious.

Addis Ababa - Ethiopia, In April 2014, Abel Wabella, a social media activist who founded Addis Zeybe, an online news outlet, was arrested by Ethiopian security forces and jailed in Maekelawi, an infamous prison in the centre of Addis Ababa.

His arrest came during a crackdown on journalists and the opposition. Accused of "terrorism" and disturbing law and order - charges he denied - he would go on to spent 84 days there, of his almost 18-month sentence.

Maekelawi was known for torture and repression. Former inmates have said they were shackled in solitary confinement, beaten with gun butts and electric wires, and that the cells underground were so cold that they were known as "Siberia".

Earlier this month, about five years after his ordeal, Wabella stepped back inside the prison's gates, this time as a visitor.

Maekelawi, which stopped being operational last year, was opened for four days to the public, in an attempt to showcase reforms to the justice system under Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's administration, which took power in April 2018.

"There are some good beginnings in reforming Ethiopia's justice system, the opening of Maekelawi to the public being one of them," said Wabella. "But, Maekelawi is one single building, the reform should be across all sectors of the justice system."

Wabella also criticised the makeover of Maekelawi; cell walls had been painted to cover former prisoners' writings and paintings.

Wabella said it should have been preserved just as it was, like a crime scene.

"It should be put as a permanent exhibition and all its history must be recorded properly, and all the buildings inside the compound must be left for this purpose," he said.

"Ethiopia needs systematic changes to successfully impact justice reform. It was a good gesture to open Maekelawi, but there's no guarantee the change is irreversible if Ethiopia's Attorney General Office, in particular, continues to be politicised."

In June, more than a year since Ahmed came to power, rights groups issued concern as several activists, journalists and politicians were arrested - and as a feared 2009 anti-terror law to prosecute suspects was still being used, following the killings of high-ranking government officials and military figures.

"These measures have overshadowed some positive developments, such as the amendment of the previously restrictive 2008 Civil Society law, the ongoing drafting of new anti-terror legislation and [reduced] use of torture to extract confessions from prisoners," said Wabella. Read More...


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