Lions, tigers and hyenas were used in the torture of political prisoners in secret jails in Ethiopia, the country’s reformist prime minister has revealed.
Caged rooms where detainees were thrown to predators to extract confessions “defied belief — they compared to a scene out of a movie or a fiction book”, a visibly shocked Abiy Ahmed told reporters.
“It is hard to believe this took place in today’s Ethiopia but the animals were kept alongside the prisoners and used to force confessions as a tool of intimidation. People were raped and killed, looting was rampant. What happened there was shameful,” he added.
Mr Abiy vowed to end such medieval abuses and to continue his crackdown on corruption that has for decades held back his country’s economic development.
Big cats have long been used as important power symbols in Ethiopia but the days of using them as tools of intimidation were presumed to have ended with the demise of Haile SelasTelevision pictures showing Abdi Mohamed Omar being marched out of his large villa by police following his arrest for human rights abuses and inciting violence were met with disbelief by many Ethiopians who are struggling to keep up with Mr Abiy’s flurry of dramatic reforms.
Mr Abdi, who was recently sacked by the prime minister as president of the country’s volatile Somali region, is accused of setting up the covert torture centres to suppress opposition to his tyrannical rule.sie, the nation’s self-proclaimed divine emperor, who was overthrown 44 years ago.
Since Mr Abiy, 42, took office in April, he has restored diplomatic ties with Ethiopia’s once-sworn enemy Eritrea, pledged to open up state-owned companies to outside investment and released thousands of political prisoners.
The reforms have drawn praise from the international community and attracted the interest of investors in one of Africa’s most promising economies and tourist destinations. However, recent ethnic unrest across Africa’s second most populous country has dampened early jubilation over Mr Abiy’s agenda, and displaced 2.8 million people.
In the eastern region, which borders Somalia, the government fought a secessionist group for many years until the activists declared a unilateral ceasefire this month in a gesture to the prime minister’s peace-making agenda.
“Hopefully the arrest of Abdi is a start to justice for victims of serious crimes in the Somali region,” Maria Burnett, from Human Rights Watch, said.
Speaking at his first press conference since taking office, Mr Abiy said his ruling coalition would prepare for a “free and fair election” in 2020 and hand over power peacefully if it lost. “My dream is that doubts about the ballot box will disappear,” he added.
Thousands of once-exiled opposition figures and groups have been welcomed back to Ethiopia in recent months, but the reformist leader has drawn the line at one: the former military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Mengistu, who ousted Selassie in 1974, was sentenced to life for spearheading a “Red Terror” that killed tens of thousands of people. He fled the country in 1991 and was offered refuge by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, where he still lives in comfortable exile.
Selassie was among those who kept big cats to project the perception of invincibility and was guarded around the clock by lions and cheetahs. The lion of Judah was on the country’s flag until he lost power. While tigers are not native to Africa, they are bred in captivity and kept as pets and tourist attractions in a number of continent’s countries.